The Inner Monologue of a College Student With Chronic Pain

A note to the reader: Imagine this post is told by a narrator who is commentating on your daily life. But this is not your normal life – it is the one where you are in excruciating pain all day.

Imagine you’re a college student. A mechanical engineering and computer science student, no less. And you’re living with chronic pain.

Side note: Why do we say “living” with chronic pain? Because this does not feel like much of a life at all to me.

It’s Monday and the alarm is yelling at you. It feels like there are weights holding your body down, but your bladder is screaming in pain. You manage to haul yourself out of bed to go to the bathroom, then you collapse right back onto the bed.

You have 10 minutes to get to class. Looks like it’s no-makeup-Monday again.

You get to class a minute late and get mixed reactions.

“Oh look, she showed up today.”

“Why is she in a wheelchair?”

“I’ve seen her walking around campus, does she even need that thing?”

Or even worse, the pity looks. Here you are, showing up and doing your best and all people see is the wheelchair. It’s a constant battle between wanting people to see you’re hurting and not wanting them to know at all. Which one is worse?

It’s technically time to take your meds, but the lack of sleep from homework and painsomnia dramatically increases the exhaustion and difficulty concentrating. Take them anyway. You choose more exhaustion over pain this time.

Class is over and now it’s time for lunch. Don’t rush off to the café yet – you have to decide whether the walk is worth the pain. Do you get lunch or just get by on the granola bar in your bag? …Real food it is. You think in the back of your mind, “This means I can’t go back to my room to get [insert important schoolwork here] because that’s too many steps for me.”
More meds at lunch. You get stares from people who see you popping pills.

There’s one more class for the day – on the second floor. You need the elevator but feel so much shame and embarrassment as you press that button. The people going to the top floor must hate you for making them late. After all, you’re not in a wheelchair this time. You look perfectly fine.
You get to class and have so much brain fog that you can barely hear the professor talking. You hear the phrase “Exam Wednesday” and are already dreading that decision. You know, the one where you either take Vicodin or struggle through the pain during the exam. Which will impair you more? Can your grade take another hit?

Finally you’re done with class, but somehow you’re more exhausted than when you woke up. Time for a nap? Nope – not if you’re an engineer. It’s time for homework and maybe some more homework.

It’s nearing midnight and you know you have easily two more hours of work to do, but your body is begging you to stop. You finally stop working and do your PT before bed.

It must be time for sleep already, right? How about some anxiety and more pain instead. Do you take more pain meds and sleep? You might risk sleeping late…again. Or if you don’t sleep at all, will that be worse?

Which one do you choose this time? Which one?

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Thinkstock photo via AndreyPopov.

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