One of the things that amazes me most about being in chronic pain is how on earth do I manage to stay asleep through the pain signals my brain is receiving, right up until the moment when consciousness returns and the first thing I notice is that my inescapable pain filled body is still there, still doing its thing? How do I sleep through that at all?
I woke up this morning and did my usual ‘body check’. Tension headache from Sunday? Yep, still here – no doubt the result of sitting on an uncomfortable barstool for a few hours on Saturday night. Anything unusual hurting? Yes, my right should blade is in agony, and I don’t use that word lightly. I don’t remember doing anything odd or strange yesterday that would cause a flare up of pain in my shoulder blade area, but it is certainly talking to me this morning, loud and clear. I sort of lever/roll myself out of bed, my neck, back, hips and shoulders all sort of going ‘snap, crackle, pop’ as the stiffness of sleeping so dead still (yay Valium) works itself out, and put my feet on the floor. My feet hurt, though no more than usual – it’s a shooting sort of pain. I’ve obviously been clenching my toes in my sleep again which causes tension through the arches of my foot and up my shins. A quick stretch and a rub of my hands followed by a fumbled attempt to pick up my phone to check the time, also indicates that I have been doing my best ineffectual little fists of rage all night too, so my hands are a bit, ‘best not boil the kettle this early, lest one tip hot water all over oneself’ unreliable to say the least. My teeth are feeling pretty icky lately – my ‘barometer’ tooth, the right upper lateral incisor, feels like it’s been moving, which of course it hasn’t – it’s just had my bottom lateral incisor pushing against it all night as I have been subconsciously clenching my teeth against pain all night. The muscles which run from the back of my jaw up to my cheekbones feel tight and horrible, not spongy and malleable like they’re supposed to, and when I open my mouth to yawn, it feels like of an old rubber band being overstretched that just might snap… cra-cra-crack-crack.
I stumble to the bathroom to pee and am screwing up my face against the pain in my hips as they complain about the very ordinary effort of being upright. Bending down to lift up the toilet seat sends a shooting pain up the left side of my neck, again. I go to pee and have to wait a moment… like everything else in my entire body, my entire pelvic floor also tenses up when I sleep and I have to consciously will it to relax in order to be able to go. I stand up and face the handbasin to wash my hands, the cold water actually feels good – the colder the better, at least it’s not a pain sensation. At this point I usually avoid looking in the mirror – I am fairly confident that I look as bad as I feel, and I just don’t really want to see the evidence of my pain all over my face, I especially hate seeing it in my eyes, as I know that means other people can see it too. I wash my hands and lean over the basin (more cracking rubber band sensations in my lower back) to splash cold water on my face. A few facefuls of bracing cold water and I feel like I’m trying to flush away the Valium induced drug hang over – it doesn’t really work, but I do it habitually anyway.
Back to my room and I pick up pants and a jumper that I carefully left on the end of my bed… god knows if they get kicked off and end up on the floor, I’m kinda fucked when it comes to picking them up. Hang onto the bed end, one leg in, the other leg in, hips are going – ‘what the hell do you think you doing?’ Yes, it is rather adventurous to think one should be able to put on pants without an increase in pain. And yay, I notice I am clenching my teeth some more from the effort of ignoring Putting On Pants Pain. Stop doing that! I do some jaw exercises as I get my jumper on with the minimal amount of lifting my arms over my head – ever wondered why so many of my jumpers have zippers up the front… wonder no more. They’re definitely not purchased to show off my cleavage to best advantage. Next big obstacle… the bedroom door knob. Slippery little sucker; it often gives me grief.
Walk to the kitchen… all 15 paces of it, thinking, ‘Oh you little shit, right shoulder blade, what the hell have I done to you?’ I grab a heatpack and put it in the microwave, wishing for not the first time that the microwave wasn’t in one of those face height (well, for someone of only 5′ in height, it’s at face height) wall wells, and thinking I’d be better off it if was on the bench. The heatpack must weigh about 2kgs if that, but when I want to pick it up above my shoulder in the morning, I’m not happy about the extra 12″ higher that I have to lift it from bench height to face height. I punch the buttons with seemingly unwarranted ill humour towards the appliance, and wait for the comforting noise of the microwave doing it’s heating things up, thing.
I turn around and lean over on the centre island bench with my forearms laying flat and my forehead resting on my arms… gently stretching out my lower back and trying to dissuade it from screaming at me. I usually find myself staying in that position for a full 2 mins and 25 secs, shifting my weight from leg to leg as I persuade my hips to move even a little bit without pain. I lift my head up, usually just in time before the microwave does it’s godawful and annoying, ‘beep beep beep’ schtick – my internal timer for 2:30min periods is pretty good, after hundreds and hundreds of similar waits for a heatpack to warm up. I grab the heatpack out, still in a drug fucked haze and walk away from the microwave -usually having forgot to press the cancel button… the 2 or 3 seconds I have left on the microwave timer will annoy me later, but I’m not compis mentis enough to deal with that just yet.
I stumble to the living room and push a puppy out of the way – sorry puppy, no cuddles for you until I get this roaring fucking nightmare in my right shoulder blade to shut the fuck up a bit… though in all fairness, this morning it’s a right shoulder blade, tomorrow it could be the back of my hips, or the top of my neck or the middle of my back or wherever the fuck the tension and pain wanted to ‘settle’ for the night. I sit down and position the heatpack behind me and wait… ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, a half, a quarter, *sob* oh, fucking hurry up. Finally, there it is. Heat. Heat sensations radiating through my spine instead of pain sensations. I know it’s not actually taking the pain away – not really. It’s just tricking the nerve endings into sending some different signal other than a pain signal to my brain. Okay puppy, you can come for a cuddle now. My back SHOULD be fine. I SHOULD not be in pain. But my nervous system is shot to shit after four nasty car accidents and my nerves send pain signals to my brain 24/7.
So what’s the point? The whole morning heatpack ritual isn’t actually fixing anything so why am I doing it? It’s pretty simple really. When you’re tired, it’s awfully hard to ignore being in pain. When you’re drowsy, or in my case completely drug fucked, it’s pretty hard to push those thoughts and sensations of pain to the back of your mind in order to be able to think about anything else. In the mornings, because I am tired and drowsy, the pain is overwhelming. Once I wake up a bit and can master my consciousness somewhat, I am able to apply the energy necessary to compartmentalise the pain to some place in the back of my head to be able to engage with the world in some hopefully useful capacity. It doesn’t mean the pain is gone – it’s not – I’ve just learned to ignore it to a certain extent. It’s why sleep, even the drug induced Valium unconsciousness that I call sleep, is so important. Without it, my ability to ignore or manage my pain is significantly diminished.
I’d like to be able to say that today was a bad day. If it was, maybe that would make this whole situation more bearable. I would like to be able to say that today my pain was particularly bad and that I went through this bullshit routine to get over this one, particularly bad day, but I can’t – for me, this is just a Tuesday.