Every 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!