The Choices I Make Each Day With Chronic Pain


I knew when I woke up this morning that today would be a day of choices.
Every day brings choice – what to wear, what to eat, where to go. I make those choices too when I can. But today the fibromyalgia is biting hard, and I have more basic choices to make. I hate that I have to, and I hate even more when I have to try to explain to people who know me exactly how a “choices” day works. But so often I have people say to me, “Oh, we all get tired sometimes” or “Everybody has aches and pains: take an aspirin and get on with it.”

When I woke up this morning, I was, as always, on my couch. Last night I had become so tired so suddenly that I fell asleep where I was sitting – no time even to slip off my shoes and lie down. So I am wearing the clothes that I wore all day yesterday and slept in all night last night. I don’t have anywhere that I need to go, and now my hands are so stiff and painful – as are my arms, feet, legs and shoulders – that I can barely flex them. So. Choice number one: Do I struggle into my bedroom to find fresh clothing and change – a process that I know from experience could take up to two hours and leave me in even more pain? Or do I conserve what little energy I have, change only what is essential and try to manage a wash down in the bathroom? This will also leave me in extreme pain, but it might also leave me enough energy to try and tidy up the room a little, since I know that in a couple of days I will have an assessor visit me at home, and I am beyond humiliated at the thought of them seeing the untidiness that I just don’t have the resources to manage at the moment.

I choose option two, and find a couple of bags to sort things into. One for rubbish, which I can drop into the bin in the kitchen. One for recyclables (mostly envelopes, junk mail and packaging) which I will have to leave in the hallway until I feel confident enough to make the short trip outside to take it to the bin. I sit on the sofa while I sort and scoop things clumsily into the bags with hands that are numb and clumsy. I’m hungry, thirsty and need my pain meds, but I know I won’t be able to get the pills out of the packet right now, and I know I will not be able to safely prepare, cook or carry food even from counter to table until I can ease some of the pain from my hands.

So, choice two. Do I try to fight the popper pack for a couple of pills to reduce some of the pain and take them on an empty stomach, leaving me nauseated? Or do I look for something small that I can eat and get a lidded cup of water so that I can take them and not have the bad effects, though this would probably leave me so tired I couldn’t do anything else for at least three or four hours, by which time I’ll need to take another dose of meds.

I choose option one, because while the pills I have don’t ever take the pain away completely, they do reduce it enough to allow me to function somewhat. It takes me 10 minutes and some awkward manipulation of a spoon, but I finally fish two pills out of the pack and shuffle into the kitchen to wash them down with a little water drunk from cupped hands straight from the tap. (Luckily the taps have lever tops rather than turn tops, so I can manage them on my worst days.) Unfortunately my feet are so swollen and stiff that I stumble on my way back to my sitting room, and fall against the counter. It hurts, but the pain is nothing compared to the frustration I feel at the way my body is failing me.

When I finally manage to get back to the couch, I am exhausted. Choice three then: Do I fight the fatigue and try to do some of the things I had so badly wanted to do today (reply to letters, check for messages online from the few people I do retain contact with)? Or do I allow myself to sleep and hope that I will be able to wake after a couple of hours, rather than waking confused and disoriented after falling into it for seven or more, then being unable to do anything more than drag myself out of the fog long enough to order take-out food online and hope that I can eat it.

There are better days: days when I can vacuum, dust or pick up around the house (but only one of those per day). Days when I may be able to make a sandwich or heat a bowl of soup. There are even days when I leave my apartment for a little while and get to the supermarket or the library. But I pay for those days with three or four like today. I hate that choice. I hate that when I do receive a rare invitation to an evening out with friends I haven’t seen for years, I have to weigh that few  hours of socializing against the days of exhaustion, pain, mental fog and misery which I know will follow. And having to send apologies because I know I have an appointment I can’t miss on the following day, and I won’t be able to make it if I use up the energy I have to allow myself a little remnant of a life the evening before. That is hurtful to me. Sometimes, I do it anyway – to hell with the consequences – because I need to remind myself that I am still who I was before this condition took over my life. And sometimes I do it to push myself. But then I always was stubborn.

There are choices every day, and I make them. And the main choice I make is to pick the battles I have to fight against my body – because sometimes a strategic retreat is the only sensible option. There’s always another battle.

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Thinkstock photo via Discha-AS.

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