Drip, Drip, Drip

Faucet DripEvery now and then, I stop everything I am doing and suddenly realize exactly how much pain I am actually experiencing. Today was one of those days. Maybe it was because my physical therapy session this afternoon was twice its usual length, or maybe it was because my physical therapist asked me to come in three times a week for the next couple of weeks in hopes of decreasing the intense inflammation that is once again spreading through all my joints. But that one drop of pain dripped off the faucet, and things once again felt like they were spilling over.

In the matter of a handful of minutes, I had the beginning of an anxiety attack. Three times. Just when I thought it was passing, it seemed to come back. Having my hands, knees, and ankles simultaneously hooked up to electrotherapy machines did not necessarily help…although it was not necessarily feelings of claustrophobia that I was experiencing…instead, it was the realization of just how bad the pain actually was.

I have noticed over the past year that my pain thresholds have increased dramatically. I have come to think of numbness as sort of a protection mechanism. I have often had that feeling when I know that I am in tons of pain, but I cannot actually feel the pain. All of this is fine and dandy, but what it means to me at the moment is that once the pain finally registers, it has already shot off the charts.

I used to wonder if I erected mental barriers against the pain. Maybe that used to be the case. (Actually, that probably was the case.) During the past few months I have often found myself embracing and connecting with my pain, so I don’t think this is the reason for the sudden overflow of pain. Embrace my pain? Sounds odd, I know…but for years I have tried to escape my pain, and that only seemed to make things worse. Embracing my pain doesn’t make the pain go away, but it does make things much more manageable.

And during the last month, as I have returned to work for the first time in a long time, I have realized that there is a lot to be said for the “management” of my illness. If asked, I wouldn’t necessarily say that these past few weeks have been particularly difficult or particularly easy. I used to apply these labels to the ease with which I could or could not do things, but I no longer find them to be as useful. Instead, I like to think that I am “managing” as best as I can…and that I am continually looking for ways to “manage” things better…and while I’m at it, I might as well try to have some fun!

Sleeping in during a particularly rough morning. Check. No guilt. Double check. Except for Wednesday mornings, when I have to go in early for office hours. One day a week. I can manage that. Super extended afternoon naps from which I must be woken up before I sleep on through to the next morning. Check. Having to teach class five days a week at noon? Only a few weeks ago the thought of committing to this absolutely terrified me, contrary to what I may have written here on my blog…but the surprising thing is the thought of having class the next day gives me something to look forward to. Dealing with the ups and downs associated with teaching a college class is actually a welcome break from the monotony of chronic pain.

But I continue to learn that if I translate my fears of a distant and unknown future into pleasant thoughts for today, everything will be okay. Even if it seems like rheumatoid arthritis is pulling us back, it’s important to know that we continue to move forward.

Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!

11 Comments
11 comments
  1. Lana says:

    “Every now and then, I stop everything I am doing and suddenly realize exactly how much pain I am actually experiencing.” There words hold true for me as well. I am always running into direct directions between the craziness that is my life. Sometimes, I stop and realize how much pain I am in.

    “Embracing and connecting” – I like that- It is something that we adjust to and become accustomed to. As busy as my life is, I am glad it is because it takes my mind off the pain. In a way, it is a godsend.

    Anyway, I am glad that you are back at work. It shows a different side of you. Having RA and FMS, it is important for me to feel like I am functional. I don’t know what I would do if I was not. Also, I am sure self-esteem plays in an important in how our bodies physically feel.

  2. Lisa H. says:

    I love this post for so many reasons:
    -Numbness does not mean no pain, it means ignored pain. Yes, oh yes.
    -Sleeping in as pain management. Yes. (I have just recently discovered this.)
    -Feeling something other than you posted in the blog in earlier days. Oh yes. Me, too.

    :)

    Thanks for having such a great blog!!

  3. Wren says:

    Busy-ness that cannot be ignored without causing new problems — perhaps big ones — is probably the best (and oldest) pain management technique around. You’ve picked the winner, RA Guy. I recently wrote about pain management, as well, and as I read your post this morning it occurred to me that we were talking about the same thing. I wrote about “distraction” as a way to handle pain; you wrote about teaching classes, getting to PT appointments, etc. I believe it helps a great deal to have things to do; these things keep our minds otherwise occupied.

    Glad to hear that you’re “managing,” even as you acknowledge your pain and do all you can to treat it. You continue to amaze and delight me with your insight and attitude. Thanks very much.

  4. valentine K. says:

    i so love tbis blog!
    and i am so glad to find out that i am not the only crazy who ignores pain.
    i am often hobbling around town ..when i really should be sitting down and weeping bcoz of the pain! shooting through my knees and ankles.
    keep up the blog

  5. Sunita says:

    I know these feelings so well. I’m not going to have an identity that is so “RA” or “psRA”…or whatever the acronyms are. We are all far more than this “ailment” or “chronic disease” dictates us to be.
    You are achieving. You have gained in wisdom through all this. Stave off all depression, and let all your students feel the passion of your teaching. You can change their lives for the better through your inspiration for the suubject. Young people are so impressionable…tell them about architecture, the beauty of the English language, art history….INSPIRE!
    As always, advice from someone who needs some. I’ll be as condescending as heck, until you come away at the end of the day…and say “I enjoyed today”. And give your partner some flowers (or equivalent) for gawds sake! :)
    Love Sunita x

  6. Linda Mooney says:

    Yesterday was quite a day for me. I come into your blog about once a week, there are a few of your regulars that I like to read and I enjoy your writings as well.

    I was so blown away with Cari’s posting yesterday. It had to go half way around the world before I knew she was in my own playground.

    She and I both are at HSU, I looked her schedule up and asked a couple of her professors to ask her to come by and see me. And she did and we had a very nice discussion about RA.

    Thanks to you RA Guy I feel like her RA mentor, and she is my young chickadee whom I feel like I can give her wisdom and strength as she works on her education at HSU.

    Thanks again half way around this world it is a small world after all.

  7. RA Guy says:

    Thanks, Millicent – I know that I can always count on your for support.

    Lana, I haven’t written about it yet, but yes these past few weeks have done wonders for my self-esteem.

    Lisa, thanks for the compliments!

    Wren, I agree. Just this afternoon, on my way home, I thought about how we actually have to teach our minds how to cope with chronic pain. If asked how I’ve figured out how to do so, I would say one thing: keep yourself occupied with something other than the illness (but staying busy does not mean overdoing it.)

    Valentine, I try not to ignore it anymore, but like I wrote sometimes it doesn’t register as easily due to heightened pain thresholds…but I continue to learn how to recognize the signs and modify accordingly as best as I can.

    Sunita, thanks for the extra serving of support! I’ll do my best on the new job…things are already (potentially?) moving forward. More details in the future.

    Linda, yes I received a similar message from Cari yesterday – glad that you all could connect. Yes, it is a small world!

  8. Kali says:

    Sounds like the reason that I tell people law school kept me sane my first year.

    In a year of exploding, overwhelming pain for no known reason, having to get to and pay attention to law school was an anchor, a solid point in my life that didn’t care if I was in pain and that could let me…work around the pain, I guess.

    ~Kali
    http://www.brilliantmindbrokenbody.wordpress.com

  9. Lene says:

    I think we learn to filter the pain, depending on the situation – what I call the fun filter is especially effective, but the minute it’s no longer applicable, you crash into a world of blinding pain. You learn to ignore the pain as you go about your daily life and yes, things like work and friends and family can be wonderful distractions. My big problem is that when I get caught up in work, I don’t notice my body yelling at me until it’s too late, which is why I have as many injuries as I do…

    And thank you for writing about embracing the pain. It was a good reminder – I think it can help you stop when you need to (see above re: idiocy leading to injuries), thus in the long-term probably helping you have lower pain levels because you’re working within your limits. But I also think it’s important, because fighting the pain takes so much energy that when you turn around and embrace it instead, stop fighting it so hard, you unexpectedly may find there is more energy available. I seem to have a vague recollection of it working that way, anyway. Perhaps I shough start practicing it again…

  10. Kerstin D says:

    I actually found your blog by googling “embracing the pain” and RA. I delivered 3 babies with no pain meds (before RA was even a thought in my head), and on baby #3 I found that when I would allow the pain to happen without fighting it–when I would “embrace” it and accept it for what it was–that it seemed to take some of its power away. During that delivery my body even took over and created its own endorphins. Where I had been feeling intense pain I was suddenly experiencing primarily drowsiness, right up until I actually delivered. The pain hadn’t gone away, but it had changed into a completely different experience.
    I’m new to RA–only “pretty darn sure” diagnosed by my GP, awaiting my first rheumy appt. But I want to try and approach RA the same way I approached delivery. Allow it to have its way, not be afraid of it, and accept it. I may look back on this as totally naive after dealing with this a few more years, but it can’t hurt to try!

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