Lessons in Pain

These last three months have been quite challenging, and I rarely talk about it, but today I would like to share some views on dealing with physical pain.

I have had rheumatoid arthritis for about twenty years now. Usually it’s just a day or so of aching hands and swollen fingers, but this year it has been different. At the end of May, a “trapped nerve” in my hip rendered me nearly incapable of walking – even sitting was painful. After a month long recovery (and a good osteopath) we managed to work it out, only for me to experience the worst arthritic flare up I have ever experienced. This lasted nearly a month.

Painful hands, fingers so swollen, sharp aching elfshots running down the fingers. Unable to make a fist or hold a coffee cup with one hand. Hands just held on my lap, tingling, tired. Unable to write very well with a pen or pencil. Typing was difficult, but better than writing. Not sleeping due to pain.

When that flare up died down at the beginning of this month, my back then went out. Now, this too isn’t a rare occurrence – I have fallen off too many horses in my lifetime, and it’s always a weak point. But this time was different. This time the pain was so severe my legs were shaking, I felt dizzy and sick. I have a high threshold for pain, and this tested that limit.

The back is now on the mend, and I am able to sit here at my computer and type this. I can only sit for about 15 minutes – but that is better than yesterday, by a whole five minutes. Little steps.

Pain is not just a physical challenge, but a mental one as well. It can so easily lead to depression, our human minds unable to see beyond the day when the pain will ever stop. Luckily for me, right now I know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but for those whom constant pain is their life, and for whom there is no end in sight, I have the utmost sympathy and empathy. I have come to terms with the fact that as I age, this too may be my plight in life.

Pain can be a great teacher though. It can teach us of our limits. It heightens our awareness, if we are not pushing it away. Being in the moment with your pain is the last thing your mind wants to do, but may just be the best thing you can do at that moment.

Pain also teaches us to slow down. This past week I have not been able to sit upright for five days. I’ve learned a whole new way of looking at things – from a horizontal perspective. I’ve learned patience. I’ve learned the resolve needed in order to heal.

My husband set out our inflatable camping bed in the backyard on Sunday, so that I could go outside and lie down (I tried on the grass, but needed cushioning for my hip). I spent all afternoon lying on my side or on my back, underneath the beach tree that shelters my altar, communing with the tree and learning lessons of what it means to stay in one place, to be unable to move. Glorious insights, and the blessings of the world around me filled me with such awe. I always knew trees were great teachers.

The pain is now coming back, into my lower spine, and I will now be signing off, to lie down and let the muscles and spine stretch out again. Learning, listening, patience and endurance. Lessons in pain.

12 thoughts on “Lessons in Pain

  1. It is so important to have the space and time to look after yourself when things are this bad – and I’m so glad you’ve got that. The one thing most likely to break a person’s mental health when the body falters (I think) is feeling obliged to carry on as though there is no problem. So many illnesses are invisible, and what is invisible is too often treated as though it does not exist. It’s very easy to tell another person they’re making a fuss or being lazy, without knowing what they are up against. Hopefully the rest of the year will be gentler with you.

    • Yep – I’ve known far too many people who have been sent home by their GP or hospital, telling them that it’s in their head, only to suffer from a serious incident, such as a stroke soon after. Caring in the medical profession is rare these days – it’s no longer healthcare, but “get them out of here quick” care…

  2. Hi, Joanna, I do sympathise – my sister-in-law has a rare form of rheumatoid arthritis and I have shared her suffering as much as another can. Like you she has a high pain threshold level and at times pressing on for longer than she really should. I do hope this episode clears quickly and you are once again pain free. Blessings and healing energy to you. xx

  3. Pain is a challenge — physical, emotional, psychic, soul — it does not matter so much the source, though the coping mechanisms are radically different. In some ways physical pain is more difficult to deal with, because we are quite good at covering up the other kinds unless they become totally overwhelming. The challenge is partly as you say to work with it, taking in its lessons. Excruciating physical hurt is inescapable, it haunts and harries when one is afflicted. I am glad for you that you had the chance to be with the beech tree, elegant in her inability to move as we are used to and so often take for granted, accepting her blessings and attentive to her lessons. May your healing continue in slow steady steps. Blessings.

  4. I know where you are coming from .My arthritis is osteo but I also have a trapped nerve. I don’t know what it is about this year but like you my flare-ups have been severe especially over the last three months, and I have had to resort to a mobility scooter again and a self propelled wheelchair. I went out too on Sunday into nature and it was wonderful and healing.

    • I think that in July the unsettled weather had a lot to do with my flare-ups – after the heavy electrical storms that we had at the end of the month, I felt much better! Different triggers, different symptoms – it’s still quite a mystery. I think nature and being out in it is such a great healer because we can step outside of our selves so much more easily than we can when boxed up in our homes, contained in a world that we have made. When we step outside into a world that isn’t human made, we realise just how much we are only a part of much bigger existence… x

  5. Hope this flare up ends soon! My chronic pain is in my hips, leaving me unable to sleep on my side and go for long walks (at least on concrete). Some days are better than others in pain management. I am glad you are taking care of yourself- you are not alone! XO

    • My hip has also been acting up again – you might want to look at getting special insoles, like Dad has for his knees and foot! Concrete is just pure evil for walking on. My osteopath really helped with my hip – might be worth seeing if you can find someone over where you are! x

  6. Hugs to you Jo. Pain is never easy. I find the mental side harder to deal with than the actual physical pain. I know of a few people who have had their symptoms diminish by avoiding gluten (and avoiding an autoimmune response in the gut that spreads to the joints) and by drinking 1 TBSP of apple cider vinegar a day. Keep taking care of yourself. xo

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