I Can’t Deal With This Pain

Every now and then a doctor (other than my rheumatologist) will ask me if something hurts. When I say no, they look often look surprised and ask my if I’m sure, because I should be able to feel pain associated with whatever it is that is being discussed. It’s at this point when I usually realize that I need to provide a more explanatory answers, and if often sounds something like this:

All of my body hurts all of the time, due to my rheumatoid arthritis. Chances are that what you are referring to is actually causing pain, but it’s just not registering.

It’s sort of interesting/fascinating/odd/whatever when you realize that the pain of RA often prevents you from feeling–or even noticing–other pains in your body. Once during physical therapy, I wasn’t able to tell that the skin around my wrists was being burnt by overly-hot heat packs. It wasn’t until we unwrapped the bandages and saw the red burns that both my physical therapist and I thought “uh-oh.”

There have also been multiple times when I don’t feel a thing from the currents coming from a professional TENS machine. One physical therapist (different from the one mentioned above) assumed the machine was not working or that the electrodes were not plugged in correctly, as it was turned up to its maximum setting and I couldn’t feel a thing. (Not only that, but all of the surrounding muscles were completely still.) Upon touching both contact points, she immediately got “shocked” and reeled backwards.

And I sat there, somewhat in disbelief. My physical therapist could not even touch the electrodes that were applied to my knees because of the strong electrical current, while I could not even feel a thing.

My relationship with pain has changed quite a bit over the past decade, and I have no doubt that it will continue to change in the future. The more I get to know it, though, the more I continue to learn seemingly contradictory things, such as the fact that my pain does have a protective element.

I’m not referring to the actual pain signals that are being sent to the brain, which is one of the classic explanations for pain.

I’m talking about the numbing aspect of pain; of the idea that the pain can get so bad that I can simultaneously feel and not feel the pain (as odd as this may sound). As much as chronic pain hurts, at a certain point is has become my new normal. It is my new baseline.

And while what I have written up to now is based upon my physical pain, I am no way trying to deny the corresponding emotional pain that is always present. From this perspective, the pain if just as–if not more–numbing…and this is the true challenge: constantly working not only against the physical aspects of pain, but the emotional aspects too.

For too long, I often felt like I was being dragged along by my rheumatoid arthritis. If only I could get one day or one hour off, I thought, then I could rest and recuperate, and be better prepared to deal with this continual challenge. But these rest breaks never came, and my entire self became more exasperated.

“I can’t deal with this pain,” I have often thought to myself. Indeed, I (as well as millions of other who live with chronic pain) have reached levels of pain that are beyond what the human body or mind are supposed to deal with…and if you haven’t been there yourself, no words or explanations will ever be able to truly describe exactly what it feels like.

But if ever there were a “can’t” that should *immediately* be eliminated, it has to be this one…because no matter how bad the pain can get at times, I really have no other choice than to deal with it, as best I can.

I’ll admit, there are still times when “I can’t deal with this pain” starts to slip back into my thoughts. As soon as I recognize it, though, I immediately replace it with:

I can deal with this pain.

Whenever I affirm this to myself, I sometimes find myself chuckling lightly, laughing at (but not taunting) the idea that I could possibly not be in control of how I decide to react to the pain. Once I assert that I can indeed deal with the pain no matter how severe it is, I realize that, I–and not my pain–am in control. I am reminded that it is I who controls my thoughts and my actions.

My chronic pain will never stop trying to control my life. (This is its nature, after all.) I let it take control in the past, and suffered miserably. I can now honestly say that I will never let it take control again, no matter how challenging it gets.

Never underestimate the power of eliminating one “not.”

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

13 Comments
13 comments
  1. Dee says:

    Yep, I get asked (when at appointments other than rheum) “Are you in any pain today?”
    Me: Yes, but only a 3 or a 4
    Them: Really, where and why, if you know?
    Me: Oh, just diffuse joint pain and stiffness, nothing abnormal.
    Them: Oh.

    One actually said to me, “Are you one of those people who can walk around with a 3-5 pain level like nothing is wrong?”

    Well, honestly, yes. I have to, or I wouldn’t ever walk around. I don’t even get the comfort of a firm diagnosis. Just: Inflammatory Arthritis. Which also means I have no other options, according to my last two rheumies.

    Despite feeling crappy, my meds must be working because when you compare my current MRIs to those from mid 2011, there is no synovitis. Tell that to my joints, which feel as if they are grinding.

    I’m stuck being that person, but it doesn’t stop my life regularly. I have learned, in my thirties, that pain isn’t everything and unless it is sharp or new, there really isn’t much to focus on.

  2. Carolan Ivey says:

    For me, a certain level of pain has become like white noise. And when my rheumie asks if something hurts, I have to really concentrate in order to determine if a joint does, indeed, hurt.

  3. Beverly says:

    I completely agree. I have been in chronic pain for so long, it’s just the norm. I’ve told myself that I would never allow pain to control me, and that I would control it. I too have experienced things (like surgery) where they said I should be in a lot of pain, but I feel nothing. I think it takes a strong mind to reach this level.

  4. Jocelyn says:

    Beautifully written. People often ask me if I’m hurting every day. I’ve tried so hard to explain that there really is no such thing as a day without pain. There are only days with less pain. I think in the future I’ll just send them over here to read your blog. You explain things so much more clearly than I can. Gentle hugs.

  5. Andrea says:

    I’m so glad I read this today! I’m having a “I can’t deal with this” pain today. I totally get the above comment about a general ‘white noise’ of pain. Because I always feel dull pain somewhere, I’m use to it and don’t bother mentioning this pain to anyone because its a day to day reality. I often tell my spouse, if I do complain that something hurts….that means IT HURTS, like beyond normal human understanding!!! Today my right hand HURTS. The closest analogy I can think of for the pain I feel today in my right hand is this: imagine someone has smashed all of your fingers and hand with a hammer….but that doesn’t account for the pain in full. It doesn’t explain the numbness that goes along with the pain, (how can something be numb and painful at the same time), it doesn’t explain the fatugue and general mailaise either and it doesn’t explain the emotional pain I face today. I will keep repeating your words out loud while I get through this flare in my hand…..I CAN DEAL WITH THIS PAIN! (typing it, I still don’t feel it, but I will keep saying it because eventually it will sink in….lol). Thank you again :)

  6. Scott S says:

    The whole notion of ‘control’ with any autoimmune chronic illness is a joke because its always a moving target. Questions like the one from your doctor are surprisingly common from people who really should know better. In the autoimmune diabetes community, we hear about blood sugar ‘control’ in much the same way, but its the dumbest term to describe something that is perpetually changing. What is really missing from so many doctors, I think, is empathy.

  7. Lana says:

    Interesting post, RA Guy. I have actually found myself in the same situation. Unless my pain is new or different, I don’t really pay enough attention to it. I think it is because our pain thresholds are so high. I also had a similar experience with the TENS machine. Like you, I have learned that, for the most part, I can deal with the pain. Of course, there are times I cannot. But, as the saying goes, it is what it is.

  8. Polly says:

    My RA is nowhere NEAR the level of yours, but I remember being quite shocked a couple of years ago when a nurse prodded my red and swollen toes and said, ‘Does that hurt?’ I said, ‘Not really,’ and she said, ‘Oh, that’s probably just because you’ve got used to it.’ The very idea of getting so used to pain that I stopped noticing it at all was kinda scary – although not as scary as burning wrists on heat packs etc!!

  9. Sallie says:

    Thank you again, I need this affirmation today. You do start to wonder if you are the only person going through this pain. I wonder if I am the only person working through the pain, refusing to take any time off sick and then wondering what the impact of to doing so will be. I will not give in to this pain but at this time of year,I wonder if I will ever dance again.

  10. Diana says:

    Nicely written account of how you are embracing the chronic pain of RA. I have also gotten use of feeling painful every now and then, and for a while, I am beginning to wonder if I start to train myself to have a very high level of pain tolerance. For those of us with RA, I guess it mean a good thing because we are constantly suffering from pain and inflammation. By right, pain in its own right, is not supposed to be a bad thing. A normal and healthy person should be able to associate a pain with a signal that something not normal is going on with the body – a call for action.

    Anyway, I think it is great of you to point out well about eliminating the word “NOT” or negativity in our thoughts and belief system. This is a very powerful way of overcoming our emotional blockage of getting well and in control of our life.

  11. Michael says:

    When you read the main article, there are so many points that all R.A. suffers will identify with. But whist our nearest and dearest try to empathize with our pain, reading the article gives a wider overall understanding, especially mood swings.

  12. Andrea says:

    Pain was biting me hard tonight. I always know I can come here to find someone who can relate and that we are not alone. Thanks so much for your words!

  13. Joseph says:

    Great post. It’s something I’ve had great difficulty with. Pain seems to overwhelm me, no matter how many years I’ve lived with it. You’re right, having the right frame of mind is important. But no matter how much I reinforce my mind to cope the pain knocks me back down.

    Great read.

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