Every year while training and rehearsing for our dance performance in the Big Moves show, I injure myself and hit an emotional wall. It seems I freak out about all the things, question my intentions and feel on the brink, every year. I hit that wall on Tuesday of this week. I had practiced pretty hard the night before and was feeling the effects of a poor decision (why didn’t I ice my knee after?!?!?!) while running errands with my boyfriend that morning. With every step a voice in my head began a plea, “Just quit! You don’t have to do the show! It’s not worth it! What’s the point?! Give up! You can’t do this!” the voice got louder and louder. By the time we made it back to the car to leave and head for our lunch destination, I was in tears.
I didn’t tell him about the voice, but it was obvious that I was in pain. He asked me to not rehearse that evening, though that was the plan. I agreed that I would take it easy but that I still had to go to rehearsal. I did just that, but didn’t tell anyone about the voice. I was trying so hard to just go with the flow, to not hold others back and to keep on keepin’ on. I spent so much time in horrible pain the last few months that this seemed like the right thing to do. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to “take it easy” or to care for myself first, it’s always been about the work.
While having lunch with B he asked about my (obvious) limp and what I was doing to care for it as though this was the most normal conversation in the world. I said nothing but that I was going to ice it. He agreed that was a good idea and even suggested using ace bandages to compress and support the surrounding muscles. Whoa! I never would have thought of that on my own. I wouldn’t have even talked about my knee if he hadn’t brought it up. Today I bought some at Target and wrapped below my knee but cannot figure out how to wrap above it (it keeps rolling down, no matter how loose/tight/positioned).
I know a lot of people with chronic pain issues. I have a very low opinion of how western medicine handles pain management as a result. Our society does not like to talk about pain, does not want to see people in pain and truly doesn’t know how to interact with people who live with pain. I hear often how difficult it is to simply navigate day to day tasks and errands and just general living of life with chronic pain. I have heard so many times someone with chronic pain beat themselves up for not being able to do typical things others take for granted. They often do not seek help out of fear of rejection, ridicule and favor fatigue (asking someone for too many favors, I may have just made that up).
Pain is often not taken seriously, even or especially by medical care providers. Combine that with the stigma associated with fat bodies and you have a recipe for brutality. When I sprained my spine back in March the x-ray technician was so brisk with positioning my body I was in tears. “Why are you crying?” he asked, insistently. “I’m in a lot of pain!” I managed, trying not to choke on my tears. I was horrified by his dismissal of my pain and seeming confusion that I was crying because of it. Even today I do not feel that anyone took that injury seriously, but I’m glad that I did, for once.
As our bodies age pain will come in new places and forms. Soon we won’t notice the smaller creaks and aches over the sudden and sharper pains. Often people with chronic pain no longer recall what it was like before, they can feel weak and like “babies” when a new pain is too much to handle. We can become overloaded by pain, especially when we’ve grown accustomed to daily pain and a sudden onset of some new pain arises. Suddenly the normal way of doing things, which is likely already modified due to living with chronic pain, is impossible and simple things like bathing are truly too much to handle.
I struggle greatly with asking for help or even knowing how or what to ask for help with or for. I’m not so unusual in that. Most people have a difficult time asking for help, even when it’s vital that they do. People living with chronic pain do things like have a career, family, hobbies, and more. Living independently can be a sanity saver for many, but it can be a struggle if you’re also living with chronic pain. If you’re lucky enough to have a support system locally you fear exhausting that support. And if you don’t have a support system, what do you do?
I guess my point in all of this is to be kind. No one knows what you’re dealing with in your life and you don’t know what they’re dealing with in theirs. Be kind to yourself and be patient and gentle, pain or no. If you are able to offer support to someone you know is in pain, be considerate of their needs and feelings. Offer to do their grocery shopping or run an errand for them instead of simply asking, “Anything I can do to help?” Try to be sensitive to the fact that it’s difficult for them to ask or accept help, even when it’s very needed.
Don’t offer help or support if you are expecting payment (unless previously discussed or agreed upon), don’t make a big fuss about their pain or illness as they may not want that type of attention, don’t hold a favor or gesture over them as though they owe you or you are somehow superior to them. Do offer your companionship! Being in pain can be very isolating, especially when going out and about for things isn’t an option. Invite someone in your life with chronic pain to parties, dinners, events and activities, but don’t hold it against them if they must turn down the invite. Just because a person can’t do something one time doesn’t mean they don’t want to or wouldn’t be able to in the future.
Be kind. Be gentle. Be patient. Be honest.