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When Chronic Pain Forces Me to Confront My Childhood Fear

I remember when I was a young girl talking with friends about the worst possible way to die and each of us had a different scary scenario for death. I have no idea why we talked about such things, although the conversations were probably correlated to the scary movies we watched in the ’80s and ’90s such as “Child’s Play” and “Sleeping With the Enemy.” We were a generation drawn to scary movies. My biggest fear was being buried alive: That was always my answer if this random conversation came up. I must have seen a movie or show about someone being buried alive because ever since then I have had some form of claustrophobia. My younger brother and I used to wrestle as children and I literally would scream bloody murder if he (who was stronger despite our age difference) pinned me down for too long. I felt as if I was suffocating and worse trapped with no control.

Fast-forward many years and I found myself living in MRI machines because of my bike accident and subsequent chronic pain. It came to a point that I truly could not bear another MRI because I hated feeling trapped in the machine and literally had panic attacks. If any of my doctors needed an MRI, I was given some sort of sedative to relax me. They never worked. My worst case scenario of how I would die was coming true despite me surviving my accident: I felt buried alive in more ways than one.

selfie of woman and her young daughter
Jessica and her daughter

I was around the age of 14 when I began my search for a cure to chronic pain. With each day, month and year, I found myself sinking deeper and deeper into the ground. Maybe that is where the term “rock bottom” comes from. However I found myself under a pile of rocks that caused me to actually want to die because I could not bear another day in my battle with chronic pain, and worse, searching for a non-existent cure. I was not living and every moment of every day felt as if I was trapped inside my own body: a body of pain.

I am 35 now, managing pain naturally, and living a life of joy and gratitude as opposed to a life of pain. With that said, I still have moments where I freeze in fear and pain. I feel as if I am back in that MRI machine: gasping for air, unable to breathe, unable to move, trapped. These moments happen either as I am trying to fall asleep or when I first awake. Either way, the moments always happen when I am in bed. I can manage the mornings when this happens much more easily than I can at night. If I wake up with this feeling of fear and being literally stuck, I can will myself out of bed and exercise. People don’t understand when I awake so early and exercise before the sun is up at times, but this is what works for me. Exercise is truly one of my biggest tools for managing pain without pain managing me.

However, nighttime is different. Most nights I am way too tired to focus on pain or the random fears that enter my mind causing me to sweat, breathe heavily, have heart palpitations, and eventually make myself get up and just walk around the house. Then I get in bed and try to sleep again, and I am back in that MRI machine: stuck. This happens rarely, but there are those nights where I cannot even find enough gumption to read or watch something meaningless on television. Pain, fear, and the emotions that come with this invisible illness take over my mind and body. When nights like this happen to me, I cannot stop moving and yet I feel trapped inside myself. It is literally hell on earth. I cannot believe I lived in this state of pain and panic for over a decade.

I made it. That is what gets me through theses horrific nights: knowing that the feelings I am feeling will be gone, but they are torture nonetheless. If you ask my daughter why people are mean, she will respond with this: “Because they are sad inside.” Never judge a person by how they look on the outside or how they treat you. People will love you and people will hate you and none of it will have anything to do with you. Chronic pain is usually invisible and I try to remember when someone is rude to me or does not like me that they, too, could be fighting a battle I know nothing about.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.