For me, the pain started in 2010, and it came as a simple, yet inexplicable, case of shin splints and plantar fasciitis. It wasn’t pleasant, but it was far from debilitating. Then, in Sept of 2011, I was struck rather suddenly by an almost unbearable case of what my ENT diagnosed as TMJ. It wasn’t long after the TMJ onset that I began to notice a strange and terrifying new pain that engulfed my entire body and left me wheelchair bound within several months. To put it quite simply, pain has been a big part of my life since Sept. 20, 2011, and not a day has gone by since then that has not been characterized by some sort of pain, ranging from discomfort to complete agony.
I’ve experienced bone pain, joint pain, muscle pain, shooting nerve pains like sciatica, headaches that were so bad I couldn’t lay my head down on a pillow, and deep body aches, but by far the most pervasive pain that I experience is a persistent-body-wide-nerve-type-pain. It’s a pain that is heavy, overwhelming, constant, and quite debilitating. Even though I’ve been experiencing this pain for almost two years now, I still struggle to put what I am physically feeling into words. The best description I’ve been able to formulate is this: it’s as if every nerve ending in my entire body is inflamed. Any movement (even, or especially, walking) causes further irritation, and too much ‘activity’ causes damage that could literally take months to recover from, if I am able to recover at all.
At my very lowest point in the pain game, I could hardly walk to the bathroom and spent all of my time laying on the couch wrapped up burrito style in an electric blanket set to the highest temperature. I could not fetch my own meals or do anything other than walk to the bathroom and back a few times a day, and sometimes even that was too much. This was my life for several months until I was finally diagnosed with Lyme. Once I started treatment, a beautiful thing happened and I began to see a gradual lift of my pain. I was still extremely restricted and had to be careful not to push myself too far, but with time I was able to walk into the doctors office and get all of my meals by myself without a problem. I could walk outside and get the mail or pick some flowers for the coffee table. It was such a luxury, and I felt quite sure that I was winning the pain game, I was so hopeful that I would soon be saying goodbye to the wheelchair for good.
But last June all of my hopes were dashed when, after a few weeks of ‘doing too much’ (i.e. having guests in town and traveling to an out of town doctor appt), the pain came back with a vengeance. Literally overnight, I went from making good progress to taking ten steps back in the pain game. In the preceding months I was able to regain some of my lost progress, but I never completely made up for the ground I lost. Then, this past December, I had another string of offensive events (which I will write about later), that set me back even further, leaving me in the state that I am currently in, glued to the couch and once again quite dependent on my wheelchair. And suddenly, I’ve fallen back into the grips of this evil game, and I can’t figure out how I’m going to gain the advantage so that I can win.
I wish this post could be about a secret, magic bullet potion I’ve discovered that has caused my pain to cease and desist, but it’s not. Believe me, I’ve looked long and hard for something that would help, I’ve scoured the internet, joined message boards, and have seen doctor after doctor. I’ve tried: loads of natural anti-inflammatory herbs like ginger and curcumin, physical therapy, massage, narcotic pain killers, NSAIDS, energy work, cranial sacral therapy, SSRIs, chiropractic work, and more. Nothing has had a lasting effect, in fact, many of these modalities have only made me worse.
So, what is a girl (or boy) to do when the pain game seems to be winning, despite all of her (or his) efforts against it? The simple answer is that I don’t know, but below are six suggestions that have helped me maneuver through the darkest days of the pain game.
1.) Epsom salt detox baths
If there is one thing that I know is effective in easing my pain, this is it, and these days I take two Epsom salt baths per day just to keep the pain level tolerable. The magnesium in the salt soothes sore and aching muscles while the salts work to pull out toxins. The hotter the water gets, the more relief I experience, but for those who cannot tolerate the heat, even a lukewarm or cold bath will bring some relief (I have had my fair share of cold baths due to sensitive skin).
If you have any baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, maca, bentonite clay, rosemary, mustard seed, ginger, or green tea lying around then feel free to add one or two of these things to your bath as well, as all of these things will help to draw out the toxins, which will help to calm inflammation and therefore reduce pain. Just be careful not to add too many things at once or you could end up with an unpleasant detox reaction (i.e. nausea, dizziness, racing heart, lightheaded, etc).
I’ve found that reducing stress and relaxing my body also helps me to cope with the physical pain I am under, and I personally love to light a non-toxic candle or two and spritz my bath with a lavender essential oil to bring some added peace to my aching body and busy mind.
2.) Get to know your essential oils
There are many wonderful brands of essential oils on the market today that are loaded with therapeutic and healing benefits. My go-to brand of choice is Young Living, but other brands like DoTerra and Well-Scent are also wonderful, just make sure to do your research before jumping in with a brand I’ve not mentioned. Many essential oils on the market today are laced with nasty chemicals and fragrances, the best oils are more pricey but are so pure that they can safely be ingested and even used in lieu of conventional medicine like antibiotics.
I use lots of different oils for different ailments, but I absolutely cannot live without peppermint oil. Peppermint oil is particularly useful for joint pain, stomachs aches, and headache relief. There are also other oils that help with pain (PanAway) and stress relief (Stress Away, Peace and Calm, Lavender), and adding these oils to your daily routine can really help to ease discomfort while also calming the mind and spirit.
PS- If you’re interested in purchasing oils or just learning more about them, feel free to contact me.
3.) Practice gratitude
This one is simple, but oh-so-difficult during those times when you’re feeling down about the agony that your pain is causing, but a simple change in perspective can make all the difference. If you’re in a particularly low place and are finding it hard to muster gratitude for anything at all, start with the tangible things that you can see and state out loud what you are thankful for. For example, ‘I am thankful for my bed, I am thankful for clean sheets, I am thankful for a roof over my head’. You may feel crazy as you speak these things out loud, but I promise that if you practice this long enough, you’ll cultivate a greater sense of gratitude over time that will allow you to appreciate the small things while also bringing a sense of rest and contentment to your life. And remember- there is always, always, always something to be grateful for, sometimes you just have to try a little bit harder to find it.
4.) Expect something good to happen every day
Did you know that speaking happy, healthy thoughts can actually change the molecular makeup of your cells? Replacing scary thoughts with empowering, positive expectations can literally contribute to your physical healing. So learn to expect the best instead of bracing for the worst.
5.) Have a good cry
When all else fails, allow yourself a good cry, and if you’re in a particularly low place then pick up the phone and use your ‘phone a friend’ lifeline to get some support and encouragement from a trusted comrade. Just be sure to choose your lifeline carefully- you want to select someone with a compassionate heart who will listen and lift you up, not talk over you and contribute to any negative emotions you may be feeling at the time.
6.) Remember that you are not your illness
This one is important- No matter how bad things get, always remember that you are so much more than your illness, more than your pain. There is a beautiful, intelligent, and lively person buried under all of the physical ailments, and even though you may not be able to do all of the things you used to do, you are still you.
Instead of dwelling on the things you cannot do, try to focus on what you can do by looking for new hobbies and interests that don’t focus on your illness or pain. Some people may be able to go for a short walk or take a painting class, but if you’re not quite to that place yet (I certainly am not), then try embracing something that you are comfortable with like painting your nails, sketching, or knitting. Just do something, no matter how seemingly small it may be, to get out of your head and free up your soul to live, breathe, and dream again.
In summary, pain in and of itself can be depressing, but living in a body where chronic pain is a mainstay is a downright battle every single day because you don’t know when or how or even if it will end. But we have to keep hoping, and wishing, and praying for those good days to come, and in the meantime, we must remember to be gentle with ourselves and strive to find joy and contentment in each passing day. As Tom Petty says, ‘the waiting is the hardest part’, but what we can and must attempt to do is learn to wait well. There’s no denying that pain has changed me, but it’s my choice whether to let it change me for the good or the bad.
Wishing you the best in your battle against the pain game.