A new adventure, a new way of managing things. In the past, I have kept this all inside. I lived this private hell while on the outside trying to appear absolutely normal; often quite successfully. Very few people knew what I was going through over the years. But the problem with holding such a secret is that it eats away at you inside. Suppressing things only serve to make them more powerful. The beast grows more heads to stare you down. Secrets destroy, and when it comes down to it, I'm not fooling anyone close to me. All I was doing was living a life of dishonesty. I was lying to myself as well.
You see, I live with pain. I don't suffer from it, because suffering is being a victim to it - and I am no victim! I live with the pain and have long exhausted all medical treatments. No one likes to think of all the illnesses or conditions that medicine cannot treat. We like to imagine that the doctors can fix everything, always pulling something out of their Mary Poppin's bag. Take a pill, a spoonful of sugar... have an operation and everything is cured, fine and dandy. Unfortunately, it isn't anything like that. Doctors cannot treat everything; and while we have excellent medical care in these modern times, there is still much that they don't really understand.
Pain is a fundamental human experience; it's our built-in warning system. An alarm that goes off to tell us to not put our hand in the fire, or not to hit our shins or stub a toe, so we learn for next time. It's a lesson that even animals learn; built into the hardwiring of our nervous systems and in our genes. It happens as we are healing, as our cells are renewing and patching up whatever injury we had. That pain goes away, it is only temporary and is a good and even useful thing. A life without that pain is a life of being unaware of dangers, which is actually a lot worse.
But what happens when it doesn't go away? When the "red alert" is still on long after the danger has past? What happens when you experience pain for weeks, months, years or even decades? This is where medical knowledge comes up short. There are some types of pain that remain, sometimes for a lifetime. This sort of pain is much more difficult to understand and almost impossible to treat. How the body amplifies the pain signals into something that resembles a neverending scream from a child that never draws breath and never gets tired.
It is most people's worst nightmare, being in pain all the time without relief. It's up there with being buried alive, or eaten alive. We talk about putting animals to sleep so they don't suffer in pain. We pray for the end of suffering when someone is critically ill. But what about pain that isn't from cancer, or other terminal illnesses? We don't put people down.
I had a workplace accident over 10 years ago when I was 20 years old and felt invincible. I sustained a nerve injury in my arm which caused me to experience neuropathic pain. Neuropathic pain is a much different sensation to that of normal nociceptive pain ("ow, that water is hot!"). Ever hit your funnybone very hard on something? So hard that it makes you feel physically ill from the intense nerve pain and it remains for a day or so? That is the nerve; that is the pain. All the damn time! Welcome to my experience!
The body has all sorts of mechanisms to deal with injury. The brain, the main server of our neurological network, goes into repair protocols. Most of the time, it take a little while and all systems are restored. But sometimes, something goes wrong. The brain doesn't understand this huge influx of signals, so it sends commands down the nerves to amplify the signal (so it can make sense of it). The nerves themselves, work harder to communicate it back to the brain, so they send more and more signals; all in the hope that the brain will understand. The system goes haywire and crashes - and these changes can become permanent.
And that is what happened to me. It's called by various names that all in themselves, mean nothing and do nothing to change the outcome. Complex regional pain syndrome, a new name for the old reflex sympathetic dystrophy... The pain is there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year... more than 3652 days of my life, a third of my existence. No medicine can remove it, no slicing nor dicing my body will either.
However, had that nerve healed normally and I went onto have a pain-free life; I wouldn't be where I am today. I wouldn't be the person I am today either. What a long and winding path I've taken on this journey of pain. Some times I have been so desperate that I've wanted to cut my arm off (myself - with a blunt butter knife... I can dream ;) !). But to add insult to the injury, had I done so; I would still have this pain, only in that case I would also have no arm. I've had many dark and black times where I've wanted to be put myself down: dead = no pain. But dead is dead, there are no second chances; nor can we wind back time to do things differently. If I gave up on everything, there wouldn't be a chance to appreciate those things in life that are enjoyable.
To smell the sweetness of ripe mangoes, or the magical smells as you walk into a spice store. To feel the warmth of sunshine on my skin; or the tingle of a southerly coming through after a hot and humid Australian summer day. The cool sharpness of the air on a European cold snow day, kissing my cheeks while breathing wafts of clouds as I walk. To hear the magnificence of a full orchestra being played, or listening to my favourite pieces of music. The love of my family, of my friends. I am so lucky to have them all there for me, cheering me on. The joys of living are appreciated all the more when you know what hell feels like. Enjoying the simple pleasures of the moment, living in the now. Or at least I try to...
The world is full of wonder and is mine oyster. The total freedom of travel; memories of looking up at a trainboard and seeing all the possibilities. All the different countries or cities that I could be sleeping in tonight. Or laughing hysterically at the absurdities life throws at me. Like the time I was waiting for the nightbus to the airport at 4am and I flipped over a seat like a turtle on its shell; with no hope of getting myself back up with a backpack on my back... Someone did help me, keeping a much straighter face than I could have done! Life has a sense of humour! The magic is out there ;) happiness and fortune are everywhere you look, if your eyes are open to them!
As alone as my experience has been, I've always had a companion though those long nights of no sleep, or days where I've just wanted to scream and cry. Of course, that companion was the source of those sleepless nights.... I never asked for such a rude travel buddy - I much prefer to travel alone! It's been a rough and bumpy road over hundreds of thousands of kilometres; across the world and back again. No matter how fast, nor far, I run. He is still right there with me, gripping my arm with a grasp that brings tears to my eyes and makes me swear like a sailor! There are no magic answers, no cures, and no amount of tantrum-throwing will take it away. I'm in this bad marriage with him for the rest of my life.
As much as I hate whiny self-pity, I do succumb to it on occasions. But I try to get over it quicker than I used to. Forgive myself and forgive others. This blog isn't just about pain and all that depressing stuff. It's a place for me to be me; to share my problems, and to find solutions. A place to laugh at the ridiculous things that happen; or to have a whinge and unwind. I try to not be a pessimistic person, but one can't help it sometimes. The constant pain and limitations are infuriating; devastating and debilitating at times. Interfering with everything; no escape, no release, no relief.
Neither is there any relief for my nearest and dearest, who travel on this journey with me and live with the pain too. Somewhat unfairly because it's not in their bodies. I think it must be very difficult to watch - someone they care about in pain. Maybe just as difficult as it is to be the one in pain. It would be so hard to watch someone struggle or suffer; doing things that would take you a second. But, independence is so important to me, and it's a slippery slope if I ask for help everytime something is hard. Unfortunately, I can be rude at times; they don't deserve to be yelled at or told to bugger off. I can be rather cranky, not because I don't appreciate their concern, but because I must do these things myself. I can't let myself become powerless again; though in the process I make others feel just that.
But life is too short to waste on feeling sorry for yourself; or wishing for things that simply don't exist anymore! Me and Pain have travelled quite a bit together, nearly 12,000km on one such adventure! We've danced together; we've skied and dog-sledded in the Arctic. We've carted a backpack on our back and trooped all over Europe. We paint together, we found hacks to knit and sew. We even bicycle now, with a "handlebar mod" and I have various other tricks for some of the more difficult tasks in life. I even have a nice collection of gloves and arm-covers; partly to keep my cold arm warm and protected; but it also helps me hide my arms so no one notices. I hate pity or personal questions on the street! While I might not be able to shake hands, or applaud; Pain and I live quite a fun life together now that we have found peace in this unwanted partnership.
The less attention you give Pain - the less power it has over you!! My frenemy Pain, you have made me dare where others dare not, and that is why I am at peace with you. You are now as much a part of me as my eyes and ears. I applaud you with one hand, you frustrate me to tears but the show goes on...