When Chronic Pain Makes Me Live the 'Crutch Life'

Today I pulled my crutches from their corner. I worry all the time about using my crutches. People will think I’m looking for attention, people will judge me because I’m overweight, people will think I don’t need them. I always ask my husband, “Is this weird?” I worry that he struggles to answer, that he wants to say yes. He says, “I don’t know what kind of pain you’re in.” I accept that. He doesn’t know. I can’t assume anything. I have to do what is best for me, which means I can be my best with him.
Crutch life is my gig right now.

I’m relatively new to the chronic pain game. I was diagnosed with sacral ileitis in 2007. Six months ago I was in the ER twice for intense pain in my hips and down my left leg. I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t sit. The doctors declared it sciatica and ordered physical therapy, which did help. I learned how to stand upright and walk normally again instead of hunched over or stepping lightly anticipating the pain. The pain eased away but always lingers in my hips, in my knees.

But since the sciatic attack, new recurring issues are popping up – pain in my back, neck, and shoulders that won’t go away. Exhaustion that demands I stay home from work because I can barely get out of bed. A fuzzy brain that leaves me confused, disoriented, unable to process the easiest answers. We’re not sure what’s going on but we know that there are days when I need a little bit of help.

I use crutches because there are days when it feels like my spine is being compressed. Smashed in a vice. Squeezed between two giant hands. My hips ache with every bend and pivot. My instinct is to walk guarded and hunched over. The doctor agreed – the crutches will keep me upright, will help me keep moving on days I don’t want to or can’t move.

I’m still learning my limits. Friday I stood for four and a half hours for an event at work. Monday I participated in a one hour training with ambassadors for my office without sitting down. Between Friday and Monday, I spent the weekend packing boxes and carrying things down a flight of stairs because we’re moving from one apartment to another. We didn’t get everything packed in time for the movers, so now we have to finish up. We don’t have a lot of friends in town, or family to ask for help, so it’s just the two of us.

Because I overworked my body, my crutches came with me to work today. Some people remembered my first sciatic attack and offered to help with stuff. Others forgot and were shocked that just yesterday, I wasn’t on crutches, but today I am. Yesterday I looked fine. Today I look tired, my walk is stiff and slow. My boss has assigned me tasks that I can’t do today, so I’m utilizing the strength of my student assistant. At lunch, I laid on the floor of my office and took a short nap. Tonight I have to do more packing and more loading. You betcha I’ll take a muscle relaxer before bed. I was given 10 six months ago, I still have six left.

It’s the crutch life for me. I’m grateful for my crutches. I have an easy laugh and can make jokes about the pain – oh, you know, that sciatica, undiagnosed recurring pain and exhaustion thing!

I’m grateful that I have something to help me show up. Not everyone can show up. Not everyone has assistance to show up – no matter how much they want to be in the moment life-ing. I’ll use my crutches whenever I know I need them.

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