Managing my chronic pain from RA and fibromyalgia is a fairly automatic process. Over several decades I’ve developed a routine of medication, rest and heat/cold packs that usually keeps my pain at a manageable level. During flare-ups I increase my rest and add some more serious painkillers. But sometimes, when the higher levels of pain last for weeks, I can lose touch with my coping skills. And that can lead to conversations like the one I had with my partner just the other day:
Me: *incoherent whining about being in pain for a really long time*
David: “What can I do? Dip you in a vat of Pennsaid?”
Me: “PennSaid? Right! I forgot about Pennsaid!!”
Effective pain management is a learned skill, something that happens over time. Thankfully, human beings are hardwired to adapt to new situations — it’s part of what makes us so successful as a species. Adapting to find techniques and resources can take you from being curled up in bed to getting back to your life. It takes time but eventually you collect your own toolbox of tips and tricks to help you to cope with pain.
The trick is to remember that you have the toolbox.
High levels of chronic pain can make you a bit stupid. I tend to deal with increased pain fairly well for a few weeks, but once it’s closing in on three or four weeks of really high pain, I start to lose my cool. As each day blurs into the next I turn inward, focusing on getting through the day (or sometimes the next hour). The more narrow my focus becomes, the less connected I am to my pain management toolbox and the worse I cope. I forget about the tools I have for flare-ups, even when the bottle of Pennsaid is sitting right next to my toothbrush! Instead, I plow through the days with my head down, teeth gritted, waiting for the pain to let go. It’s only after the flare has let up or the injury healed that it occurs to me that had I utilized my coping techniques sooner, I would have felt better much faster.
Luckily, I have several people in my life who pay attention to how I’m doing. Of course, knowing how I’m doing is rather unavoidable because these are also the times where I talk a lot about my pain. It’s normally not a huge part of my daily conversation — it’s just not that interesting a topic — but when I’m not doing well, I talk about it. Sometimes, you could even call it whining. And I’m okay with that.
When I get lost in the pain, my support network finds me and helps me get out the other side of it. My partner will offer to give me an ultrasound and remind me I have Pennsaid. My mother and sister, both of whom also live with chronic pain, will commiserate. And throughout, my friends in the online RA community help me feel normal, even on really bad days.
How do you cope when the pain gets really bad?
Lene writes the award-winning blog The Seated View. She’s the author of Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain.
Published On: April 30, 2014