My sweet mom lived with chronic pain. She was diagnosed with MS in her 50s and with neuropathy shortly thereafter. She wasn’t easily sidelined, my fierce and fabulous mother, but there were days she just couldn’t get out of bed. “My bad days,” she called them.
“If you’re going to be in pain, anyway,” I asked her naively, “doesn’t it make sense to do something fun to try and get your mind off of it?” I’m guessing that question stemmed from a desire for her to drive me to the mall or take me out to dinner or to do something that was ultimately all about me.
Now that I’ve lived with chronic back pain (arthritis, spinal stenosis, herniated discs, etc., etc.) for years, I understand the “bad days.” At 53, I’m far too young to be sidelined with pain, but there are some days, I just can’t take it. The burning in my hip, the numbness in my left leg, and the searing pain in my groin all leave me exhausted and weak. I have to lift my own leg with my hands to get into the passenger seat of my car, and going up and down steps can be excruciating. I can no longer roll over at night like a normal person. I have to think about where I want to land and then inch my way toward that goal. I’ve had to give up all activity that occurs outside of a swimming pool because my poor body can’t recover from bearing its own weight. If I play a single game of pickleball, I’ll be lucky if I can even walk the next day.
I miss the post-pickleball selfie. Also, why are my eyes so uneven?
I was a 3-sport athlete when I was younger. I lived on the basketball court and the softball field. I knew I’d slow down a bit as I got older, but I had no idea I’d come to such an abrupt halt. When I was in college, I dislocated my sacroiliac joint playing basketball. Did that contribute to my current demise? I don’t know. I trained for and ran a full marathon ten years ago (after running multiple ½ marathons) in a body that wasn’t really designed for running. Did that contribute? Again, I don’t know. Maybe the activities of my youth are coming back to haunt me.
Once upon a time, I ran 26.2 miles.
All I know is that the body I live in—the one that carried and grew four babies and has served me so well—is raising a white flag. And it’s way too early in my life for that. I want to be able to dance to Carmen’s music at Prima on Saturdays without having to stay in bed for the next two days. I want to play pickleball for hours at a time. I want to explore fun, quirky little towns by foot or by bike. I want to hike and camp and play softball and do all the things that used to define me. I’m not a sitter by nature; I’m a doer.
And right now, I just can’t do.
It’s killing me.
Not only does my body hurt, but my soul does, too. I spend a lot of time in tears from the pain and from missing the life the pain has taken away. I’ve discovered that chronic pain is no joke. I’ve walked a mile in those shoes, and they weren’t even cute wedges, because my physical therapist says NO MORE WEDGES. No more cute boots. No more heels of any kind. The point is, I’ll never pass judgment again. Pain doesn’t just bog you down, it takes away your happiness, your mojo. I’m losing weight, trying to take some unnecessary stress off my back, fighting like hell to get my mojo back. But it’s a long journey, and I’m smack dab in the middle of it.
Do you see these beauties? I’m not allowed to wear them any more.
And these? That’s a big nope, too. (If you’re a size 10, hit me up. I’ve got some great shoes that need a new home.)
On Monday, I get my first spinal steroid epidural (or whatever the technical medical name is for it). I’m terrified and excited and terrified all over again. Epidurals were the worst part of having babies. When that needle went into my back, I was always certain I was going to end up paralyzed. It just doesn’t seem natural to have a needle in your spine. But I want my life back. And millions of people do it every day, right? RIGHT? I mean… I haven’t won the lottery yet. Odds are, I’m not going to be a part of the 2% of patients who lose their leg function. And if I do, I guess there’s a new life to figure out. I mean… people do that every day, too.
Anyway, this little letter to myself is just a chance to say to those who suffer with chronic pain: I see you. I feel you. I am you.
We’ll get through this. And I’ll never ask you to drive me to the mall on one of your “bad days.” (In full disclosure, I hate malls now. But I won’t ask you to take me out to dinner, either. Unless you really want to go to Red Lobster.)