Monday, March 11, 2013

Life Can be Painful for People Living With Chronic Pain

One of the first lessons you learn when you start living life with chronic pain is that daily life--family, work, home and school--can make your pain worse. All those little things I used to do without much thought, like run errands, cook, clean, shop and socialize, became huge pain-inducing obstacles to overcome when fibromyalgia pain came into my life.

It took me several years to figure out which daily activities made my pain worse. I know for many of us, the list of these activities can be quite long. And because pain symptoms can fluctuate over time, I find myself constantly editing my list--adding new pain triggers and scratching off the ones that are no longer problematic.

Right after the trip-and-fall accident that triggered my fibromaylgia, I tried to continue with my "normal" activities. I constantly pushed my body beyond its new limits to get things done and wound up getting so flared-up afterwards I needed to spend days in bed trying to recover. When enough was enough, I changed my tactic and put off as many things as I could to avoid flare-ups. But that meant a lot of things weren't getting done, which was very discouraging for me.

Thank goodness for the practical pain management techniques I was taught at the Cedars-Sinai Chronic Pain and Fibromyalgia Program in 2006 and for the online classes and groups at the CFIDS and Fibromyalgia Self-Help website that helped reinforce what I learned.  I discovered that once you recognize and identify the daily activities that are your pain triggers, you can almost always figure out ways to minimize their painful impact.

Over the years, I've used these strategies to deal with pain-inducing activities:
  • modify the activity to make it less painful, i.e. sitting down to do something instead of standing
  • break an activity down into smaller steps that can be done over time vs. all at once
  • find people who can help me do the things that are painful
  • delegate the activity to someone else (usually my husband)
  • say "No." and learn to live life without doing some things

Unfortunately no amount of planning or preparation can help with the things in daily life that are truly out of your control.

Now that I live with chronic pain, I cringe with fear at the thought of any kind of accidents happening to me. This fear is fueled, in part, by some mishaps that have occurred to me since fibromylagia: my shower bench breaking underneath me while I was sitting on it and breaking my foot while taking a big step down from our storage shed.

My biggest fear was realized a little over a week ago when my husband and I were involved in an automobile accident as he was driving us home from the mall.

The accident itself still gives me nightmares. The fact that my pain level has shot up to a 10/10 on several occasions over the last 10 days is quite a nightmare too.  And don't get me started about the numerous trips I've needed to make to the doctor's office and/or the Emergency Room to treat my accident-related symptoms.

My pain and my life have become quite unmanageable since the accident, which is equal parts frustrating, exhausting and frightening.

What concerns me most is that chronic pain can make it more difficult to identify physical injuries from accidents.  Pre-existing pain can mask the symptoms of new injuries and make it more difficult for your doctor to diagnose new problems.

As bad as the accident was, the SUV we were in (and our guardian angels) did a very good job of protecting us from severe injury.  On a safety note, I always wear my seat belt when I am in a car, even thought it can poke at my painy parts.  I know that the seat belt I was wearing literally saved my life. Unfortunately the "seat belt sign" injury I sustained is one of the reasons I'm now dealing with more severe pain.

I'm not sure what happens now.  Among many other things, I'm concerned about how long this extreme flare-up is going to last.

It's going to take all the self-help pain management techniques I have in my toolbox to get me through today.  I'll just have to wait and see what tomorrow brings. In the meantime, I do know daily activities that weren't particularly bothersome a fortnight ago are going back on my list of pain triggers.

I wrote this post because I'm especially interested in hearing from those of you who have been in a situation similar to the one I currently face. I want to hear your suggestions for coping with accidents and injuries that make your chronic pain worse.

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Anonymous said...

Hi Selena,
I too live in dread of having something happen healthwise that gets missed because I take so much other medication and am in so much pain already.
Last year I fell down the stairs and the pain level just went through the roof - was prescribed prednisolone for the swelling and oral morphine for the pain ( that works well I just take it at night now if the pain is bad.) However I actually broke a bone in my foot but didn't notice as the pain in my back was so bad and the tablets masked everything, I also do pilates joint protection and core strenghtening. It helps shift the pains sometimes. (given by physio)
Now my doctor has said if I god forbid have an accident I should be checked out all over and monitored more throughly.
I wish there was something like a clinic I could go to maybe once a year and be given an 'mot' (like a car) I think I would feel reassured that other things are not going on.
Even simple things like a cold or virus you don't know whether it is that or your conditions flaring.
I guess the only thing us chronically ill can do is keep on plodding on celebrating the good days and trying to find relief on the bad.
Take care
Lorna x

elana r. snyder said...

i'm not so sure i can give tips. i don't have a support system or a safety net. there is a real shortage of primary care docs and in my state nobody wants to prescribe opiods. i've been suffering 25 years however the last 12 have been brutal. i've cycled in and out of homeless and have been inalot of violent situations since. i writhe night after night only sleeping a few minutes if lucky. so many people for avariety of reasons aren't getting care or any meds to relieve their pain. sometimes opening a pack of sugar is painful. but i am a 10 out of 10 day in and day out ty for your blog and is that picture really of u? ;)

Aviva said...

I'm so sorry you're going through this, Selena!

My experience is that it will take at least twice as long to get back to "normal" levels of pain/fatigue/etc as it does someone without fibromyalgia or other pain issues.

I found it crucial to stay on top of my pain meds early on, including setting an alarm so I could take those middle of the night doses. That helped keep my pain from escalating to that 10/10 place. Over time, and it was a trial-and-error thing for me, I slowly backed off the pain meds and increased my activity levels. And sloooooooooowly got back to where I was before.

But while a "healthy" person will recover from a typical car accident in 8-12 weeks (i.e. not requiring surgery, no broken bones, etc), for me it took more like 8-12 months to feel like I had my life back to where it was before the accident.

(I realize that's somewhat depressing because you want to feel better now and not a year from now. But it helped me to know that even though the progress I was making felt like it was at a snail's pace, it was progress. And your recovery may be way faster than mine!)