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When Pain Becomes a Life Partner

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I have three partners in my life, each adding their own version of strength to my life. One, is my husband, who adds love, hope and teamwork. The second is my service dog, who adds independence, bravery and new-found confidence. The third is full body intractable chronic pain courtesy of complex regional pain syndrome. That one is a much more complicated partnership, but a relationship nonetheless.

My pain is a beast that can’t be chased off.

illustration of the CRPS beast
The CRPS Beast

Pain is normal for me. Discomfort is normal. Stress is normal.

“Partner” is defined as participating in an undertaking with another being. Pain may as well be its own entity given how temperamental, unpredictable and reliable it is. My pain and I partner in everything.

We make decisions together about how much activity I do each day. We make decisions together on how much of any one of my medications I need each day. Recently we even made decisions together about what my wedding day would involve for me! We heartily disagreed on how my wedding day should go, though. I wanted Pain to shut up and take a nap. It wanted my hands to shake, my stomach to refuse food and my jaw to attempt a dislocation.

We go for walks together. We hang out with friends together, though arguably Pain’s friends – Fatigue, Muscle Spasms, Tremors and Brain Fog – are far rowdier and less friendly than mine. We do dishes together. We even sleep – or not – in the same place.

I used to fight a lot with Pain. It would yell a lot, and I’d hit walls or clench my fists, making it yell more. The ignoring game never worked all that well.

Right about the same time my husband and I decided to look into a canine service partner for me, I accepted Pain as my working partner too.

service dog
My service dog

Pain is sort of like that annoying younger sibling that pokes the older sibling incessantly – I should know, I was the youngest. I was very annoying, just ask my sisters.

Pain is a nuisance to say the least, but it has added things to my life I didn’t have before. If I could go to a lawyer and dissolve the union, I would in a heartbeat, but for now I accept that we are partners in this life.

Pain brings the ability to feel vibrations that no one else can feel. This is usually not a good thing, but interesting.

Pain unleashed enormous potential within me to make a difference in a way that few else are doing.

Pain taught me empathy towards complete strangers.

Pain taught me how to pace myself: when to push, and when to fall back.

Pain taught me that accomplishments are anything you make them, that they aren’t limited to job promotions, or timeline goals.

Pain taught me how take shallow breaths for extended periods without hyperventilating.

Pain taught me how to put on a grand performance of well-being.

Pain taught me how to ask a dog for help.

Pain taught me how to ask a human for help.

Pain changed what words like “weak,” “strong,” “dependent” and “able” mean for me.

Pain took away the ability to live freely.

Pain diminished my ability to reveal when I’m in pain.

Pain made me a bit paranoid.

Pain taught me how to politely, and sometimes not so politely, stand up for myself.

Pain took away my trust in the medical community.

Pain distorted what I thought I knew about pain.

Pain keeps changing the rules about what a 10/10 on the pain scale means.

Pain also keeps changing the rules on what a trigger is… and surprising me with new ones.

Like it or not, pain is my partner for the long haul. It is a part of me that can’t be wished away, shoved into a closet or banished by “happy thoughts.”

We fight. We work. We live.

Originally published: July 8, 2018
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