That’s my standard answer when I’m asked how I’m feeling. I hesitate to say more. I don’t want to tell them (my husband, my son, my parents) how bad my pain is, simply because there’s nothing any of them can do to ease my pain.”
You just read the beginning of my recently published essay “What I Really Mean When I Say ‘My Leg Kinda Hurts’.”
The reality is more complicated than that.
Click here to be re-directed to The Mighty to read my essay in its entirety.
I don’t look forward to these appointments. Especially when I’m seeing someone new.
I dread having to explain and describe my symptoms and my pain to yet another doctor. I’m tired of re-hashing my story, my medical history. I’m tired of trying to explain to someone what my days and nights are like.
And after all that, I’m tired of the non-answers, the uncertainty and confusion that my particular medical condition seems to present.
It’s been my experience that doctors could learn a thing or two (or eight) from teachers. A parent/teacher conference does, in fact, share similarities to a doctor’s appointment.
Click here to read my personal essay “8 Things Doctors Can Learn From Teachers.”
“I’ve been living with Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease for ten years now, and I’m still learning how to do it. I don’t know if there ever comes a time when you reach the finish line and achieve the “gold star” for figuring it all out. You just keep figuring it out, moment-by-moment, day-by-day, and wake up the next day, and do it all again.”
And so begins my recently published essay, “There Is No Shame in Life With Chronic Illness,” published at The Mighty. (Click here to read the article in its entirety.)
The conclusion of the essay goes like this:
“There is no shame in your body not working/functioning/behaving as it used to. Your body, your life, you – are still a marvel. Never forget that.
There is no shame in who you are and how you feel.
There is no shame in needing to learn this lesson over and over again.”
It’s an important lesson as we look with longing and hope to the new year.
Apparently, some people who know me find it hard to believe my pain can be pulling-my-hair, biting-my-finger-in-agony kind of pain when I’m still wearing all my jewelry. And it’s a lot – bracelets, nine rings, earrings, anklet.
But guess what?
“Yes, You Can Wear Jewelry and Be in Pain at the Same Time.”
That is the title of my recently published essay. Click here to be re-directed to The Mighty to read it in its entirety.
“It still isn’t easy for me to describe myself as a disabled woman. For a long time I didn’t think a disabled woman sat on the ground pulling out weeds. Or played handball with her son. Or helped her elderly neighbor carry in groceries. But I do all those things. Because being a disabled woman doesn’t look the same for every woman. And it doesn’t look the same for me each day.”
That paragraph is taken from “It’s Not All in the Family,” a personal essay I wrote that was published in the fall issue of Breath and Shadow. You can read the essay by clicking here.
September is Pain Awareness Month, a “time when various organizations work to raise public awareness of issues in the area of pain and pain management.”
Have you ever seen that 1-10 pain scale? The one doctors show you, with a range of facial expressions?
I don’t like that scale. And I don’t like being asked to rate my pain.
I remember a visit to a pain management doctor. During the intake, the nurse asked me to rate my pain, right then in that moment. I refused.
I’m usually a very compliant patient, obedient and direction-following.
But, let’s face it. After 10 years of living with my autoimmune disease, I’ve gotten really good at pushing through the pain. I have to. As a result, my pain scale most likely doesn’t look the same as yours. What I now consider a 6, my husband would probably classify as a 10.
Here’s what I can tell you about my pain. It fluctuates. And not just day-to-day. Sometimes hour-to-hour, even minute-to-minute.
In the interest of pain awareness, I thought I’d share just a bit of what my pain is like.
– Sometimes, my left calf is tight. That tight feeling you get before, during, and after a muscle cramp. Except my tightness lingers. For hours.
–Sometimes I don’t have pain. I have a general heaviness. My now twelve-year-old son and I used to play “squish” when he was younger. It was a wrestling-type game that happened either on the floor or on my bed. We’d tickle, but generally he would end up “squishing” me – pinning me with his body. That’s how I feel. Like I’m walking around, cooking dinner, watering my plants, and I have an invisible child strapped across my legs, weighing me down.
–Sometimes I have a throbbing pain. You know that pain you get when you’ve bumped into the sharp corner of a table? You can’t see a bruise, but the area is sore and sensitive and just hurts.
–Sometimes I just hurt. Like I’ve been pricked with needles (and I have been, so I know what it feels like). My calf is sensitive, and I have to roll up my pants so the fabric doesn’t touch my skin.
–Sometimes the pain is rocking-back-and-forth, pulling-at-my-hair kind of pain. Sometimes it just randomly hits. Sometimes I know it’s coming. My calf muscle may begin twitching. On certain occasions, I can even see it moving. It makes me think of when I was pregnant, and my husband and I would joyously watch my stomach move when our son would turn or stretch. There is nothing joyous about this though.
–Sometimes my leg feels twisted somehow. As if someone took my muscle and twisted it, the way you wring out a washcloth. And simple things, like bending to pull something off the bottom shelf of the fridge, or bending down to pick up the mail off the floor, or standing on my toes to reach the colander from the shelf in the kitchen, aren’t so simple for me to do.
And I could go on.
I don’t want pity. Don’t feel sorry for me.
Feel compassion and kindness and patience for everyone you encounter. Because you never really know someone else’s pain.
10 years ago this month, I woke up on a Sunday morning and couldn’t stand. For a few days, my left calf had felt sore and tight – the leftover feeling you get after a muscle cramp.
But on this particular Sunday morning, my calf wasn’t just sore and tight. It was red. Elmo-red. And swollen. And I couldn’t stand up.
I knew something was wrong when the emergency room nurse admitted me as quickly as she did.
My prior emergency room experience was more than five years earlier when I cut the palm of my left hand while trying to cut open an avocado. I remember sitting in the waiting area that evening, my arm raised, my hand wrapped in dishtowels waiting to see a doctor. Waiting for stitches.
This time I was immediately admitted.
I knew that wasn’t a good sign.
But never could I have imagined that my left calf’s “issues” weren’t a temporary problem. Never could I have imagined that Sunday in July was just the beginning.
And never could I have imagined that my life would forever be changed.
“Even though my disease has been a part of my life for several years now, I don’t feel as if I’ve reached a level of total acceptance and understanding. I am more and more convinced that living with a chronic illness is synonymous with living a life full of contradictions.”
And even though my son is twelve now, it still sits on his bookcase. (So does The Cat in the Hat. Some books are timeless classics, after all.)
Alexander is having a tough day. It started when he woke up with gum in his hair. Throughout his day, one bad thing after another keeps happening to poor Alexander. He’s convinced life would be better if he moved to Australia.
His mother reminds him that “some days are like that. Even in Australia.”
Lately, I’ve been borrowing Alexander’s words, telling my family that I’m moving to Australia. Here’s why:
– I woke up before my husband’s alarm, after a fitful night’s sleep. My calf felt tight and it hurt just to lie in bed, just to have my calf resting against the mattress.
– I kept dropping things on the floor as I prepared breakfast. The chocolate chips for my son’s Eggo Waffle. My Cheerios.
– I couldn’t decide what to wear. All my usual jeans felt as if they had transformed into Skinny Jeans overnight. They seemed to grip my leg, like plastic wrap covering a plate of leftovers.
– I went for a neighborhood walk with my son. I felt okay when we left the house. Somewhere, somehow while we were out, the pain came back. It didn’t creep back in either. It barged in. I limped home.
– I went upstairs to get my book, and as I did my knees creaked and groaned. It was painful to listen to and painful to climb the stairs.
– I went to sit out on our patio, to enjoy the sunshine and the colorful sight of my blooming plants, only to discover one of the neighbor’s dogs had pooped on my patio.
– I watered my plants after reading and somehow spilled water onto my feet instead.
– I spent time in the kitchen, boiling water for pasta, hand washing my son’s favorite popcorn bowl, and had to lean against the kitchen counter. My thigh began to hurt. Hurt like someone or something had hit it. Hard.
– I gingerly touched my leg, trying to find out why it felt different. The back of my left knee was puffy, swollen, and tender.
– I dealt with the pain all day long.
– It wasn’t a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
– But it wasn’t a wonderful, fantastic, great, very good day either.
But I think even in Australia my leg would hurt, my socks would get wet if water spilled on them, and I’d be annoyed and disgusted to find dog poop on my patio.