How I Win the Raging War of Chronic Pain

Imagine having your ears under water, but you are not drowning. You hear the swishing of the water and people talking, but you cannot piece together what they are saying because it is too jumbled for you to understand. When someone jumps in the water, you jump. You are startled. You scream on the inside. When someone tries to talk to you, it is as if it is the first time you have been in a pool and all you can think about is trying to keep your head above the water to prevent you from drowning. Any extraneous activity can be extremely exhausting, and can make you lose your balance and sink.

Most of the time, this is how I feel. I feel like I am failing at life because I am in a body that does not always give me the capacity to accomplish my desired goals. I feel like my body is a battlefield and I am in the middle of a raging war. Pain robs me of all energy. I tell myself I am losing every battle.

I try so hard to focus on what my friend or professor may be saying, but all I can hear are random words. I am so preoccupied with pain that when people make noises around me, I startle easily and my body interprets it as danger. Any sound, vibration, breeze in the air, or physical contact is converted into a pain signal. I am hypervigilant. Yet, when you look into my eyes, I am not there. I have been taken hostage, and there is no way for me to escape.

On some nights, I lie in bed quietly until I can hear my roommate fall asleep. I whimper myself to sleep, only to wake up to my heart racing again and being drenched in sweat. I take meds, but they do not take the pain away. It only makes me a bit more drowsy, so I can calm down a little and dose off again. This is if I am lucky. If I am not so lucky, my mind races and I try to mentally prepare for the next day. I feel guilty because I know that I will probably not be able to achieve all the things I originally planned to do, since I would have gotten little to no sleep. The sun has not even risen yet, but I feel like I am already losing.

I want desperately to be social and to be able to maintain a conversation with someone, but some days I don’t even have the energy to do so. It takes too much effort to “pull it together” and if I do, I feel worse after. It zaps any remaining energy I have and it takes me longer to “recover.” (By recover, I mean to return to my normal baseline of pain, since I’m in pain 24/7)

I strive to “blend in” because I don’t want others to notice that I’m having a bad day. The raging war continues, but I feel like I am slowly losing. I cannot let pain win. I must keep fighting. I want to be just like any other individual who does not have to deal with this horrible enemy, chronic pain. I think to myself that time will heal. Tomorrow, I will win this battle. Tomorrow, I will feel better. Or if I do not feel better, I will at least have to cope better. I tell myself that pain will not continue to bombard my thoughts.

I need to escape from pain, and the only way I can realistically do that is to distract myself. The only way I can “escape” is to fill my schedule with commitment after commitment, assignment after assignment. I try to have a positive attitude because that is the only thing that will get me through the day. I make myself extremely busy and do not make time for pain to take over my life. Again, I tell myself, I am not letting pain win. I absolutely cannot let pain win.

If I tell people I am feeling crappy, I feel like I am letting pain win. I refuse to let pain win. I refuse to acknowledge its presence, even though I can hear its voice screaming inside my head.

I lie to others and say “I’m fine” even though all I want to do is curl up in bed and cry. I don’t want sympathy from others or for people to feel sorry for me. I want to be viewed as strong, not weak. I want to be the “hero,” and win this deadly war against chronic pain. I don’t want to be known as “the individual living with chronic pain.” I don’t want the world to know that I am at war with chronic pain. I try so hard to cope on a regular basis and I feel like I am a failure if I let pain win. I am not losing this battle.

However, maybe it is so difficult for me to honestly respond to others because I know I’m lying to myself. I need to accept that I am not losing if I admit to others I am in pain. Hiding my feelings does not benefit anyone.

I am human.

Today, the best thing I can do to love myself is to let others know that I am hurting.

I do not feel well.

I want to cry.

There is nothing wrong with being in pain and I can let my friends and family know how I am honestly feeling. In doing so, I am not losing. I need to stop telling myself that I am failing. By being honest with others, I am not letting pain win. Instead, I am the one who is winning.

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