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Pain Management Part I - Me, Myself and Arthritis

by Claire Hovey

Pain in the Ar…thritis.

It's a cheap gag, but if it's a bad day and you're smiling, it's worth its weight in painkillers.

I used to think of pain as a hurdle that if I were a less selfish creature, I would be able to athletically leap over with grace and poise, throwing in some charity work as I soldier on, casually inspiring those around me to admire my stunning fortitude. I believed that, were I a better, brighter person, I would manage pain silently, prise myself out of my pyjamas and move my backside in the direction of a fulfilled life. Sadly I am, if possible, less physically graceful than I was as a podgy child in a doughnut-stained ballet suit. And I offer no apology for loving my pyjamas – who says comfy nightwear and life fulfilment are mutually exclusive?!

So you could be forgiven for assuming I've made little progress. But seeing those ancient ideas against the harsh backlight of my laptop actually serves as a landmark of how far I've come.

You think there's some generously spirited individual who would handle pain better and probably in a smaller dress size. You make too much fuss; you're weak, whereas another in the same situation is strong. There are so many ways to batter yourself, wearing your self-esteem as thin as your joints, and of course it's so easy because who can prove you're doing just as well as your fictional competitor? Nobody, that's who.

Except there's no such martyr-like figure. And you're doing fine.

Quick Fix? Fiddlesticks.

Managing your pain is a process that will continue for as long as you are in pain. Nothing I have learnt has allowed me to move on from pain. However, experience, literature and pain management courses have given me a raft of techniques that, while they have made the physical pain no smaller, have helped make my life substantially bigger. Moved on from pain I will never be, but moving forward with it; all aboard and anchors aweigh!

Pace, Plan and Prioritise…

The Three P's is a skill that, once learned, can break the cycle of doing lots on a 'good day' and very little on a 'bad day'- and consistency is something a pain sufferer dreams of.

Breaking down activities into small chunks feels painstaking and futile at first. But your pain is not considerate to the fact that you have the patience of a seven year old on Christmas Eve; it's going nowhere. So stick with it; pacing out activities simply means you can get things done without spending the next day in a painkiller coma. It means slowing down, allowing yourself breaks and treats, and planning ahead for your day; Is it necessary for you to do all the washing up in one go? The living room carpet needs a hoover; who says you can't break it down into sections, enjoy a cup of tea in between and hoover the hallway tomorrow. There's a big family event coming up; get an idea of the schedule and allow yourself time and space for rests, to be alone or practice some relaxation exercises, or even let the family know you will be delighted to be there, but you plan on leaving early to ensure you don't pay for it for a week.

It takes practice, you will make errors (Lord knows, I do). But that's fine. Start again tomorrow.

First-Aid for the Soul.

Of course, brutal reality means that you will have days when no amount of relaxation exercises can break through the mental fug; depression is, of course, a natural side effect of relentless pain. For those days I have an emergency card-board box, lovingly put together on better days as an emotional first-aid kit for the times I sink into despair. No reminders that there are people worse off or heavy exercises to help me understand my depression – today is not the day for perspective; it's the day for my own personal circus. Writing paper, names and addresses, enough money for a cinema trip complete with popcorn treats, a needle, thread and material for a sewing project, a suggestion for a short story written down and sealed in an envelope by a thoughtful friend, a bar of really excellent chocolate, a voucher for my favourite shop, photos of the friends I made at a residential pain management course, complete with the smiles of people with some hope restored… In case of emergency, crack open your own personal first-aid box, designed by you, with you in mind.

Your efforts are sterling. Chin up.

Claire Hovey, along with a team of other talented writers with disabilities, writes for the Disabled Shop Blog about disabilities and the aids that can help.

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