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The Anatomy of a Pain Flare-Up


I wake up on Monday morning knowing something isn’t right. You see, after living with chronic illness for most of my life, I’ve come to know my body very well. I’ve been feeling a flare-up of my arthritis coming on for weeks, and somehow, until now, it has stayed at bay. I know from experience that today will be my last day of significant productivity, so I head into work.

The first thing I do when I get to my desk is e-mail my doctor, who is located three hours away. It wasn’t until university that I found a doctor who took the symptoms of both my anxiety and arthritis seriously, so there is little that will stop me from seeing her. Lucky for me, we are able to keep in contact via Ontario’s video telemedicine service, so she is fully up to speed on how I’ve been feeling lately. I tell her a flare-up is coming on, and I’ll likely need documentation for my employer stating the need for at least the week off. I nearly cry when she e-mails me back, saying she knows how frustrated I must be, and suggests I pick up some good food on my way home from work. She reminds me that when there’s not much we can control, it’s helpful to focus on the things we can control, like keeping ourselves well-fed, which at least will help with not making things worse. She sends me a copy of the letter she has written to my employer, and lets me know she will fax it first thing on Tuesday morning.

Knowing I’ll be out of the office for at least the week, I catch up on e-mails, complete some tasks on my to-do list and e-mail my staff to let them know I’ll be out of the office. I go to the bank, and on my way home, I pick up some take-out. After quickly eating, I jump in the shower, as I don’t know when I’ll be able to again. I’m asleep by 10:30 p.m.

I’m up most of the night with pain. I take some painkillers, prop myself up with pillows in an attempt to alleviate some pain, and put something mindless on the TV. My bed becomes my whole world. I can’t lift my hands up to brush or wash my hair, or to change my shirt. I get up to go to the bathroom, and to bring food back into my bed. I order a lot of take-out. I watch the money drain from my bank account and my work e-mails pile up. I worry about what people at work think. I worry about my friends getting frustrated with me disappearing. I worry about money. I worry this flare-up will never end. I worry my chronic illness will cause me to lose my job. I mourn the loss of my young adulthood, the missed nights on the town, the hikes I couldn’t go on, the dates I don’t have the energy to keep. I feel isolated.

I am 26 years old. I am living with chronic, invisible illness. I will not let it define me. I will not let self-pity envelop me. Sometimes my limitations are suffocating and all-encompassing. But I must remember and repeat: this too shall pass, this too shall pass, this too shall pass. All I can do is take things one day at a time. But sometimes, it’s OK to acknowledge and accept the obvious.

This day sucks.

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