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How COVID-19 Quarantine Stress Has Affected My Chronic Pain

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It’s been eight years since I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I remember the outcome like it was yesterday. It was a few months before I turned 15. I had finally gotten an appointment after leaving many other consultations with no answers; this was my chance to figure out why my body always hurt. I got to skip school that day, which was my favorite part of having to go to the doctor.

The nurse came in and gave me a hospital gown to change into. Impatiently waiting. The doctor finally came in. She began pressing various pain points on my body; instantly, I was in tears. My mom sitting across the room helplessly watching, wishing she could do something. The doctor continued to finish out her analysis with a diagnosis that rolled off her tongue in the same breath: “Well, it’s pretty apparent that you have fibromyalgia, but I also think we should test you for rheumatoid arthritis.” Most of me was instantly relieved that I had an answer, but part of me was even more upset, as she handed me a folder with pain management handouts as we left. Anyone who struggles with chronic pain knows how frustrating it is to receive endless handouts on how to manage your pain. That’s like telling someone who has severe anxiety and depression to “just be happy.” Well, I have news for you; no matter how many times you read those handouts, yes they may become a helpful new tool for you, but they are not the cure to your pain which, in my opinion, is the hardest pill to swallow. Lately, it’s felt like quarantine is just another one of those pain packets, not helping me how it should.

Post-diagnosis, I’ve learned ways to manage my pain — what makes it worse, what makes it better. However, I’ve also been challenged with flare-ups and new pains are happening. Sometimes in the mix of a flare, I get caught up in Google search after Google search and stumble on articles that I’ve read over and over in hopes there’s something I’ve missed and I’ll find an unread sentence that’s the cure. That has yet to be the case. As someone who also struggles with anxiety and depression, for as long as I can remember I somehow seem to manage that better than chronic pain because after all, every day is different and you don’t know how your body is going to respond to something you just did yesterday — which is ultimately the definition of chronic pain. It is an invisible suffering.

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It’s been a year since I graduated from college. I always said that once I graduate, my life will truly begin — and that it has! Let me be honest — the stress of design school in NYC and a forced social atmosphere (yes, you guessed it, I’m also an introvert) was not the best prescription for my pain levels. Now that I have a full-time job in a field I love, a boyfriend and a great group of friends, my pain levels seemed to subside for a few months. Interesting how, when your pain lessens, you forget how bad it is when it flares up again. All was well until we went into quarantine.

It’s week five in quarantine as I’m writing this and I can honestly say it’s starting to affect me. I’m not as bubbly or excited about things as I used to be, I’m extremely emotional, and my pain levels are through the roof. Yes, I try to get outside to go for a run or even just a walk, which does take the edge off for a little. I mean, after all, that’s what you are supposed to do when you have fibromyalgia right? Work out, eat right, meditate, don’t stress — you know the gist. But, how can you not stress when your coworker recently passed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Of course I was upset when I found out the news — mind you, I was one of the first to know — but I didn’t think it was going to affect me the way it has. A few days ago, post-run (obviously, the endorphins were not on my side) I just lost it. Having held the emotions back for about a week since finding out about my coworker, it just hit me. I started to cry about everything and anything. Naturally, the pain and loneliness have started to creep in over the past few days. As others who struggle with a combination of mental illness and chronic pain, you know how one setback makes you feel as if you are relapsing into a past state. I am determined to not let that happen.

This morning, I woke up faking a smile on my face (mind you, I haven’t left the house in two days — hey, those are the COVID-19 orders right?) telling myself that today will be better. Sure enough (I should say slowly but surely) I started working from home, did a few meditation sessions, drank some bone broth to help the inflammation and am constantly taking deep breaths (as we speak). After reading one too many news articles about how you should be feeling during this time, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s OK to have these roller coasters of emotions during quarantine. Thinking about those who are severely struggling during this and losing loved ones, then feeling guilty about your pain in the grand scheme of things. That, my friend, is all a part of the chronic pain journey.

It’s OK to feel alone, but just know that you are not. It is so easy to let that lonely feeling stick around, making your pain worse, but don’t let it stick around too long. Get in your zone, find your outlet; for me, it’s channeling my pain into art, collaging and journaling about my feelings. You too can get through the pain you are feeling at this very moment. Accept what you are feeling right now and realize that it’s only temporary. Come on, hit the restart button with me. We will get through this.

For more on the coronavirus, check out the following stories from our community:

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Unsplash

Originally published: July 9, 2020
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