How Chronic Pain Affects Me Throughout the Day
I take a deep breath, slowly opening my eyes, savoring that one moment of my day where I am not yet awake enough to feel the pain. Still just delirious enough with sleep. I am cozy under my blankets. I exhale, and with the exhale comes the wakefulness through my veins; the ache grows so slowly, yet so quickly it is almost imperceptible in our concept of time. I roll over, my satin soft sheets slip and my fleece blanket drags across my leg. It feels like 40-grit sandpaper, a tiger’s tongue, like it could scrape paint off of walls, yet it’s just as soft as it’s ever been. I stretch, testing my body as I go. My shoulder is surprisingly fine; I must have slept alright. I feel out my arms. The right has fire running down the outside, yet is cool to the touch. The left only has a candle flame — sharp, yet manageable. My hip is next; it slides and pops and grates, like my bones are made of stone not yet softened by the flow of the river. My legs are yet numb; the excruciating day has yet to reach them. I rise, inhaling the strength and bravery I will need to make it through the day. I steel myself and begin.
I stare at the pill case and water in front of me. The pills seem to taunt me. I take them and my stomach rolls. I swallow one more sip of water and push through.
I sit to put my socks on. I sigh, knowing the pain is on its way. I twist and turn and work them up my calves, every inch reminding my legs of their ability to function, of their ability to feel. I stand, and the ache begins.
I sit with my morning tea, feet in the sunlight coming through the window. M. brings me his toy, never failing in his excitement of a new day. My toes warm, escaping the ice that always seems to surround them, if just for a moment. I throw the toy, my shoulder popping. I hiss with the pain, but ignore it and move on.
I enter the kitchen to cook for the day. My hands shake, and I expend more energy trying to still them. It doesn’t work. I cut the melon, trying to steady myself as I go. I eat a few bites, and my stomach instantly turns sour. It feels as if it serves to do nothing but betray me. I put it away; maybe later, I’ll get some food in me. My stomach is rock hard. I keep dicing and chopping, making food my stomach will reject, but try anyways.
I arrive on campus. I find parking. It is easier now with my placard. I get out and get my stuff together, ignoring the pain that ripples across my shoulders as I lift my bag. M. poops. I bend to pick it up, and hope today isn’t the day I faint face-first into dog poop. I’m lucky. Today isn’t the day. I straighten and my joints scream. I enter my building, head to class, and sit gingerly down into my seat. I adjust and steady myself for the work ahead.
I have settled in at work. I sanitized the desk when I arrived, the disinfectant wipes feeling like frostbite on my hands, but I know the alternative of whatever germs my co-worker left behind would be much worse. A member walks in. “Hi! How’s it going?” I ask, my voice half an octave too high. “Great, and you?” they respond as they scan in. “Very well, thanks!” I reply, as they already begin to move away. It sounds hollow in my ears, my smile just a little too bright, a little too cheery. They don’t notice. They half smile, turn and head on their way.
“How is your health?” T. asks, genuine in her curiosity. She has never stopped asking, even when the answer is the same. “OK!” I smile. “I have another appointment next week which might bring me more progress.” My voice is full of positivity. “Oh good!” She replies, thinking progress means a fix. I smile and agree, feeling like a peddler of false hope, and turn to meet the next member that enters the building.
I am exhausted. The exhaustion erodes my body like a river in a canyon. It is painful. It is excruciatingly normal. I sigh. I linger at work for just a minute longer, avoiding the trek to my car. I hike to my car. M. is by my side every step. It feels like I am hiking the Appalachian Trail without ever stopping. I have only gone a couple hundred feet.
I arrive at the coffee shop, step out of my car, avoiding wincing as I do so. It won’t help. My back throbs, my hip grinds and my brain feels as though it’s been beaten to a pulp. My bones hurt. It’s a unique kind of pain, like someone is stripping away the marrow inside and they are collapsing in on themselves, but they hold and I take another step. I enter and stare at the menu. The barista is prepping someone’s drink. “No rush,” I tell her as she tells me “I’ll be right with you.” I stare some more. “What would you like?” She asks. I realize I haven’t thought about it. I’ve just been staring, and still don’t know. I try to think. It feels like my brain is transmitting through radio static. Finally, after what feels like years, I decide and order. I collapse into a booth. The barista brings me my drink. She knows me. She doesn’t know the effort it would take just to get up and grab it, but she brings it anyways. She leaves without a word but a smile. I stutter out a thanks, my built-up strength leaving me as I rest.
I arrive at my last class and settle in the back of the room. C. turns and gives me a smile, sending good luck without saying a word. It’s easier in the back; the lights don’t torture my eyes as much, and I can adjust without bothering anyone.
I make it through class until the quiz. All my energy goes just to breathing; it feels impossible to divert any to think, but I do. I write my answer, check my work, hoping the last bit of focus I’ve mustered is enough. I rise and walk toward the front of the room. My fingers twitch, then spasm as I try to staple my papers. I fling them in the air. “Finger glitch!” I laugh. It’s not funny. A classmate stares at me. I bend and pick them up, taking a deep breath as my world goes black. I close my eyes, grip the desk and wait it out.
I finally reach home. I sit in my car, in silence, listening to the air conditioner still running. There is still so much left to do; my day is not yet done. I exit and walk up the four steps into the house; it feels like I have to climb Everest. Every bone, every muscle, every cell is in pain, but still, I push on.
My stomach still rejects the concept of food, but I eat anyways. I keep most of it down, ignoring the stabbing pain, knowing I have to eat sometime. I open my drink. My fingertips cry out in protest, but I ignore them. They are bruised, but no longer keep bleeding. I feel something cold and damp on my thigh. M.’s nose. I sigh and find a place to sit, careful not to spill my food as my body shakes. I set it down out of the way, allow M. to provide pressure, and wait until my heart is done with its speed trip. Tears of exhaustion sting my eyes. My body has run a marathon without taking a single step.
I sigh and sit at the top of the steps. The air conditioning has to be turned off or my hands and feet will be frozen by morning. I scoot down the stairs like a child still learning to walk, my hips no longer up to the task. I trudge my way to the thermostat, turn off the air and head back to the stairs. I drop to my hands and knees. My body won’t make the climb walking, so I crawl. I make it to the top. I attempt to stand, and M. bumps me to know I’m not yet safe. I crawl to my bed, and collapse into my covers.
I settle in, my skin searing against my sheets. My calves pulse with my heartbeat, going 20 over its legal limit, even when lying down. My feet ache; they feel like they’ve been pumped full of acetone, swollen like a water balloon about to burst, the pain slowly eating through my flesh. I toss and I turn. I am exhausted. I want so badly to sleep. The pain keeps me awake. I am never comfortable, yet every movement wakes the grating monster in my joints, the ripping pain in my muscles, so slow it’s like taking a Band-Aid off millimeter by millimeter. I want the sweet bliss of waking, of that split second where my pain is not yet known to my world, but it evades me.
I give up on sleep. I turn on my TV and hope my meds will kick in soon. I knit, the repetitive motion tearing at my nerves, but just distracting enough that I can ignore the pain it adds to my already overflowing body. The challenge of today is not yet over, yet the challenge of tomorrow looms ahead of me, like a trial of fire I must throw my body through. A wall of spikes I must climb at the expense of my muscles. A grinder I slide through at the expense of my joints. A bed of nails that tear through my nerves. I feel a thump on the bed and M. jumps up beside me. I smile, hug my dog and know I can do it all again.
I finally sleep.
Photo by Joanna Nix on Unsplash