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On the Days I Can't Ignore My Chronic Pain

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It’s 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning. The rock climbing gym opens at 10 a.m., and I told my husband and our friends that I’d go climbing this morning. I’m laying in bed, contemplating canceling on them, or getting up and going to climb, even though my next round of treatment is still two weeks away, and my pain is out of control this morning. Either way, I need to at least make it to the bathroom to take my medication… so I get up and limp to the bathroom. Now that I’m up, I might as well go climbing, instead of being bored all day. I really need a full day to recover from working 40 hours this week, but if I don’t go, I’ll be alone at home until after lunchtime with nothing to do but watch Netflix.

Against my better judgement, I get into my climbing clothes, eat a little breakfast, grab my climbing gear and a Gatorade, and head to the car at 9:45 a.m. My husband and I pick up our friends, and make the 20-minute drive to the gym. The whole way there, I have an inner dialogue with myself, trying to convince myself that it’s better for me to be physically active, and to push through the pain that the reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) monster is inflicting on me right now. I tell myself that I’ll feel better and I have the remainder of the day to rest and recover. I’m not buying my own reasoning, but decide to ignore the nausea and pain and climb anyway.

I put on my harness and shove my pained feet into uncomfortable climbing shoes. The nausea and pain is building, but I promise myself I’ll be OK. I warm up on an easier route, one I’ve climbed time and time again. It shouldn’t be difficult for me to climb, but today it is. I keep telling myself to push past the pain and suck it up. The next route I climb is ranked more difficult than the first, but again, a route that I’ve completed multiple times. I can’t climb it today. My body is so worn out and my pain is so high that I tell my husband to get me off the wall. I drink some Gatorade and try to shake off my frustrations. My third route is another I’ve climbed multiple times, and though I complete the climb, the nausea has now gotten so intense that I can’t ignore it anymore. I take a sip of Gatorade and immediately head to the bathroom.

I vomited. In the bathroom of a rock climbing gym. Because I’m too stubborn to tell my husband and friends that I need a day to recover. Because I’m too stubborn to admit that sometimes, my pain is greater than I am. Because I’m exhausted, and the stress on my body is just too much right now.

I clean myself up, wipe the tears from my eyes, and leave the bathroom. I’m ready to admit defeat and recognize that my body is in survival mode until treatment day rolls around. I find my husband in the gym and tell him I just can’t keep climbing today. He hugs me to help me feel better, and to let me know that it’s OK, but all I feel is defeat and frustration over the fact that RSD won the battle today. I find an empty armchair and curl up in it to watch my husband and our friends climb for the next couple of hours. I desperately want to be climbing with them, but know that I need to be taking care of my body right now, and my body says to rest.

Three hours after walking into the climbing gym, as we are now walking back out to the car, I remind myself that it’s not that I’m weak or lazy. Sometimes, I just need to listen to my body, and today was one of those days. I have all the time in the world to keep rock climbing with my friends. But if I keep putting off taking care of myself, I may lose the ability to climb for very much longer. I did what my body needed today, and because of that, I have the energy to go grab lunch with my friends before going home for a nap.

Originally published: August 3, 2016
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