I look in the mirror and what do I see? Bags under my eyes because Emma hasn’t slept for more than an hour without waking up in over a month. I see evidence that I am getting my period by the spots on my chin and the huge white circles around my eyes make me realise that I really need to take my sunglasses off when I am in the sea as I currently resemble a panda.
But what you, or I, cannot see is the marks that are left all over my body as a result of the pain I have been in for the last 7 weeks. You cannot see that I have had a headache for two solid weeks because Emma accidentally headbutted me when she was jumping up into my arms.
You cannot see the burning pain that sits between my spine and shoulder blade and radiates out my arm. The pain that is so bad that by the end of the day it makes me feel sick. I have been told that the lump that I can feel on occasion is what is known as a myofascial trigger point. That little beauty has been there since I was 16. I am now 30.
You can’t see the pain in my lower back that runs from either side of my spine, out to my hips and down the outside of my legs. It makes lying on my side virtually impossible and also causes the bit between my bum and hip to go into spasm at the most random and inopportune moments.
You cannot see that the muscles in my upper back are in spasm for the 4th day in a row. It’s hurting to breath as they are so tight. If that wasn’t enough to deal with I also have pain in my sternum and across to my left shoulder. Last September I over stretched when I reached for my phone on the bedside table and I was given the lovely present of costrochondritis. This basically means that from time to time, any movement I do with my upper body gives me a pain in my breast bone so bad that I feel like I am having a heart attack. I know that life is good when both my chest and back are having problems. I am certain that they both occur at once just to keep me on my toes.
Today if I looked in the mirror I would see red puffy eyes because I have spent the last 24 hours crying. Today my mask has slipped and I feel that I just cannot hide it any more. I try my hardest not to dwell on pain but today it is all I can think about.
The very first thing any doctor will tell you about chronic pain is that you need to learn how to mentally deal with it. Therapies – such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – are recommended so that we can learn to adjust how we think and feel about pain. For me, dwelling on the pain makes it worse. If I think about it or give it too much credence, I get sucked into this never ending spiral of pain and depression. One feeds in to the other and it becomes difficult to get out of. However, sometimes, all I can do is think about it.
Regardless of Emma not sleeping properly (lets face it, she has always been a terrible sleeper), my sleep over the last 10 or so days has slowly been getting worse. I cannot fall asleep at night because of the pain in my spine and I cannot stay asleep because every time I turn over I wake up due to the searing pain in at least one muscle,
When you see me with a smile on my face, it doesn’t mean that I am not in pain, it just means that I am used to hiding it. When I post happy, smiling pictures of Alex and Emma on social media, it doesn’t mean that I am doing well, it means that I have used every ounce of energy that I have to spend some fun time with them.
When someone tells you that they have chronic pain, just because they look okay, doesn’t mean that they are.
*I wrote this last week when I was feeling incredibly unwell. Thankfully, I am feeling a little better right now and I have an appointment to see a pain specialist next week. I am hoping that I will begin to feel a lot more like myself in the coming weeks*
September is International Pain Awareness month. The aim of International Pain Awareness Month is to raise “awareness through mass media, public forums, and other sources so that chronic pain may be more readily recognised, better understood without the traditional stigma attached, and more fittingly treated and managed.” – chronicpain.ie