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When Chronic Pain Is Like a 'Brain Freeze' That Never Goes Away

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It’s really difficult to explain severe chronic pain to those who have never experienced it. I’ve been trying to think of an analogy that would help explain it.

I’ve decided to go with “brain freeze” as my analogy. Not because my specific pain is in my head, it isn’t, but because it’s something commonly experienced. If you haven’t heard the term, brain freeze is that intense, painful sensation that sometimes happens in your head when you drink something really cold.


So, you are out and you buy a frozen lemonade. It’s a hot day and that slushy, icy goodness is so tempting. You take a huge gulp. Next thing you know, agonizing pain is turning your world into a kaleidoscope of frazzled nerves. You stop walking. You can’t speak. The pain in your head is so intense in that moment that all you can do is focus on it. But, you know it will pass. Brain freeze always does.

So you wait.

And you wait.

Your face is scrunching up, you can’t see anything, your brain can barely think. The only thing you can think of is the all-encompassing agony going on in your head. It’s been five minutes now. Longer than you’ve ever had brain freeze last. You start to panic. Why isn’t it going away? I can’t handle this. Make it stop!! Make it stop!!

An hour goes by. Two hours. 10 hours. You are crying. You are rolled up in a ball. Scared. Confused. Hoping with everything you have that the pain will ease. You can’t even speak, the pain is taking over everything. You don’t know how you will go on if it doesn’t ease up soon.

But it never eases up. It’s now a week later. You’ve been to the emergency room. You’ve been to your doctor. You’ve done countless tests. The verdict is that your pain will never go away. Your only option is to try to manage it as best you can. You are told you have to accept that this is part of your life now, and always will be.

You go into a state of despair for a while, because life as you’ve always known it has completely changed. You haven’t been able to go in to work, because no matter what medicines the doctors prescribe, no matter what mindfulness techniques you’ve tried, the pain never eases enough for you to truly function in your life. It’s overwhelming. Debilitating.

People in your life start to tell you that you need to come to terms with it. That you are complaining too much. That it can’t be that bad. If the doctors haven’t been able to fix it, you just have to push through the pain and “get over it.” You stare at your loved ones incredulously. How do you just “get over” pain like this? You can’t function! Don’t they understand?!

But they don’t understand. Because they’ve never had a brain freeze that wouldn’t go away. Some of them think you are exaggerating, some are tired of you cancelling plans and complaining all the time. Some truly care but don’t know how to help and can’t fully fathom what you are going through. But they try.

It’s now two years later. You still have the pain from the brain freeze. You’ve come to terms with the fact that there is no cure. Your brain, in order to help keep you together, has slowly developed some coping techniques, like ignoring the pain to a certain extent, but never to a good enough extent. You’ve learned how to smile through the agony. You’ve learned how to do some things while in extraordinary pain, because if you didn’t, you would do nothing at all. So you have to. But it’s hard. It’s so very hard. And some days, you just need to wallow in that. Some days you can’t be strong. Some days you want to give up.

But you don’t, because this is the only body you have. So you dig deep and find a way to still find joy as your pain stays with you through every second. Somehow you continue on, but some days you truly don’t know how you are doing it.

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Thinkstock photo via guruXOOX.

Originally published: June 25, 2017
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