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Why It's Hard to Get Anything Done When You're in Pain

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I am in pain in my back, at the top and bottom, and in my shoulders – especially the right one.

I am in pain whilst I find the school bags, do teeth, put hair in bunches.

I am in pain when I am discussing serious things with the more serious child.

I am in pain when I am trying to sleep, so it often fails to happen for a long time.

I am in pain now, and almost certainly still will be whenever you read this.

Trying to do something else when you are in pain is like trying to concentrate with someone talking into your ear – or shouting, if it’s a particularly bad day. Have you tried to work with builders outside the office? Tried to have a conversation whilst looking after toddlers? Then you have a fair idea of what it does to your concentration.

That is, of course, without taking into account the effects of the pain medication that you are taking, which probably dulls the edge of the pain. It doesn’t stop it, but, as medicine for indigestion might stop you from throwing up even if you still feel ghastly, it gives you the ability to function. It probably makes you feel even sleepier, however, on top of the brain fog that the pain itself provides.

I was devastated when a friend casually said once, “Well, I’m scatty, like you.” I would never have described myself as “scatty” until my mid-30s when all this started, apart from perhaps during those months when my babies were tiny. I was a well paid professional on top of things. I remembered where all my classes were and what I was doing with them next, what needed photocopying, who I needed to have a chat about with someone.

Now I have to put everything on the calendar, and I still might forget to look at it. Now I know I talked about it with someone, but can’t remember who. I haven’t stopped caring about your knee operation, I’ve just lost track of whether you’ve had it yet. I am, essentially, in a very similar boat to my 70-something parents.

I still tutor a little bit, as much as my back can stand, and I am absolutely fine with most of the biology that I have been teaching for years. The newer bits of the syllabus worry me, however. Also, I may not remember that I have already explained this bit. Two sessions on a good day are possible. I tried three and could barely remember my own name by the end.

If you look at me for half an hour on a good day, as the Department of Work and Pensions did, I seem fine. I can move my limbs about, have a decent chat. Thus I was deemed fit for work, even though the assessment and the travel to and fro wiped out my energy budget for the next three days and I was flat on my back in bed. I can go to the pub for the evening, and have a great time, but the next day that simply will not happen. Not thanks to a hangover, but more because I function, or fail to, like someone much older than the 40-something I am.

That is why getting things done in pain is so hard. I try to space things out as much as possible, and to pace myself, because if I don’t, my body will just take over by refusing to play ball. Sometimes it will anyway, however careful I’ve been.

So, if you wonder why people in chronic pain don’t manage more in our apparently endless supply of free time, this is why. It’s not free time. As soon as we demand too much of it, there’s a bill.

Getty Image by Kateryna Linnik

Originally published: July 19, 2018
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