Present Day, January 23, 2021

269 days. Not a full year, but closer than not. That is how long it has been since I have found the gumption to sit down and post a new blog entry. Why? Too many reasons to explain, and not the point of this entry. But here I find myself again.

So much has changed in those 269 days (and the 45 or so preceding). How is that for the understatement of the year? New meds. New psychiatrist. Tele-therapy. New job. Family separation…just one of the day-to-day changes brought about by a global pandemic. Again, too much to delve into and not the point of this entry.

What has brought me back? Why now? An acute awareness of how other people live. Of their struggles. Quite literally, of their pain.

Around Thanksgiving, I began feeling a slight jabbing pain at the base of my neck. The feeling of a crick in my neck. Or possibly a mildly pinched nerve. Nothing severe. Nothing to worry about. Except it did not go away. In fact, the pain increased. Slowly, but surely. Different head movements became more and more uncomfortable. Then downright painful. By Christmas, things had grown rather intolerable.

I attempted a telehealth visit. Was placed on a steroid anti-inflammatory medication and advised that if things were not better in about a week or so, I should probably go visit someone in-person. Things did not get better. The medicine had no effect. I started sleeping sitting up.

The week passed and I headed to an urgent care center. A few x-rays, lots of questions, and this time a shot of anti-inflamatory steroids. Another prescription. Another week. No improvement. Nothing even taking the edge off the pain. Increasing uncomfortability.

Back for another telehealth visit. Two more prescriptions, and a referal for an MRI. Results? Three bulging discs. Yeah, that explains it. Now I am in line for an epidural injection and a neurosurgeon consultation. However, even that is not really the point of today’s reflections.

Chronic pain. Mind you, I would not classify my current circumstance as chronic pain. In the big picture of things, it has a fairly recent starting point, and if the experts are correct, an ending point is in the not too distant future. I’m talking about the pain whose beginning is too far in the past to even remember. The kind of pain that has next to no promise of departure. The kind of pain that gets medicated, but to seemingly no avail. The kind of pain that makes common activity difficult, common movements challenging, and common dreams vanish.

My current experience has given me just a glimpse into the life of the individual living with chronic pain, and I do not envy them. In fact, it has taught me (or is at least teaching me) two things. First, you may never know who around you is in pain. If I was not sharing with my co-workers what is going on, they would never know. I try to maneuver as normally as possible. I am very self-conscious of taking my medications in private. And up until this week, most of my medical appointments took place during our 18-day winter shut-down. All of which got me to thinking there may be individuals that I even work with who are in chronic pain, and I have no idea.

Second, it has taught me (or is at least teaching me) to empathize with people going through pain. Especially those for which the pain will seemingly never go away. Not to belittle the broken leg, or a dislocated shoulder, or even pinched nerve in the neck, but there are people for which the pain will not end. For which there is no “Just hang in there until ______” fill in the blank. For which there is no diagnosis other than let’s try to manage the pain. Which implicitly indicates that you are not going to live pain-free. How difficult that must be. How mentally challenging. How physically exhausting.

I have bipolar. This is a blog about living with bipolar. And in many ways, there are similarities between being diagnosed with a mental illness and having chronic pain. My co-workers are unaware of my psychiatric condition. There is no suggestion that it will ever go away. It is “managed”. I take my medications. I do my therapy. I get my sleep. That helps but doesn’t heal.

Over the past few weeks, I have tried to imagine what it must be like to live with the combination. A mental illness, and chronic pain. Could I even do that? How long could I go on? What sustains people in that position?

If you live in chronic pain, I feel for you. I will not claim to know what it is like, but I have been given a taste. I cannot imagine the strength and resolve with which you live life. For those with a mental illness, more of the same. I admire your strength and resolve. While I walk that walk, I rarely do it well.

I once read, have tried to live by, and have failed miserably the following:

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”

A few bulging discs have reminded me of the truth of this. Have reminded me to try and be kind. Always.

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