The pain levels in my face have been raging for the last week or two, and once again, I am overwhelmed. If it were only the pain, and I could still carry on with my life, I might be able to handle it, but it comes with debilitating side effects: the staggering fatigue that the painkillers cause, the inability to move ahead with dreams and plans, the interruption of creativity and my social life, and, of course, depression.
But probably what's worst about living with chronic pain is that there's really no happy ending in store when it's all over, because in the world of chronic anything, it's, well, never over. I recently watched the movie "Wild," about the journey of Cheryl Strayed (played by Reese Witherspoon), who after the death of her mother decided to walk the Pacific Crest Trail as a means of redeeming all of the bad choices she'd made in her life...her promiscuity, which destroyed her loving marriage; her drug abuse, which included shooting heroin; and an unwanted pregnancy, which resulted in an abortion.
While the movie was wonderfully made, criss-crossing the past and present in Cheryl's mind as she made this ungodly 3,000-mile trek, it clearly was telling yet another incarnation of the hero's journey, where someone heads out into a dangerous world in one state of mind, goes through all kinds of trials and challenges, and at the end is redeemed. That story is as old as writing itself, most likely, and Americans are particularly fond of it, as we love to believe that so much of our destiny is within our reach, if we only have the courage and gumption to go after it. With a can-do attitude and a solid work ethic, we can achieve our dreams, no matter what our past was like, and somehow be made whole again, particularly if we can cleanse our spirits along the way and find communion with whatever higher power works for us.
It's all such an inspiring notion, unless, of course, you're living in chronic pain. In this kind of life, fairy tales don't apply, nor do bible verses, motivational speakers, or self-help books of any kind. Perhaps one of the most painful emotional aspects of this particular journey is that there are no paths blazed before me to tell me what to do or how to get out of this, or what the goddamned meaning of it all is. As humans, we just love meaning, and when none can be found, the loneliness is unlike any other. When things are going well, we can believe that some greater power is at work for us, but when senseless tragedy or agony occurs, never do we feel more abandoned, or worse, that there was never any greater power there in the first place. The illusion is totally shattered, and the clarity of it is heartbreaking.
Chronic pain is such an unthinkable turn of events that when the healthy person thinks of it, he or she feels a chill and thoughts quickly turn to something else. I mean, what Greek writer ever penned a heroic tale about being crippled by an unrelenting pain condition for which there is no cure? What great lessons are there to be learned about feeling tortured every fucking day, from the minute I wake up until the minute I go to bed? If some director were to ever film my life story, there would be no arc. There is no overcoming with chronic pain, no redemption, no beating the odds. Yes, there are days where it eases up, and my mind begins to race with plans as to what I want to accomplish, but inevitably it spikes again, crushing everything in its wake, and I'm once again consumed by disappointment.
This cycle has played out over and over since 1999, most acutely since 2004, and I sometimes just don't know if I can take it anymore. I've often thought of going off the medication, just to see how much of the pain I could actually handle, as at least the fatigue part of my life would be gone. But to be honest, the pills, while I hate them, are also often a refuge. They don't make me high anymore (unfortunately), but they can create a soft place to crawl into, hateful as it turns out to be as I despise the sleep they induce, which robs so many hours of my life.
I know that I've been gifted in many ways, and I treasue the many means of self-expression I can use to purge the misery of all this, if only for a few hours. I can get lost in writing a song or painting a picture, or even writing a blog entry, but the beast is there when I finish, and I feel so ruined, so useless and so full of a constant, seething rage that I know most likely makes matters worse, but how can I undo that feeling? If I were to watch my child being tortured every day, I would be enraged every day. There's no coming to terms with it.
And that's basically that. I've nowhere to go from here, other than to hope I get lucky and find a cure or to live out the remainder of my days which will all most likely look exactly like this one. There will be no great moment of redemption, no celebration of overcoming, no slaying of the beast, no raising of my arms to the sunrise in victory. I've searched far and wide for answers, have had countless surgeries, have tried every alternative treatment, and so far nothing has helped. Every few years, a discussion board pops up on the web for people similarly afflicted and it will buzz along for a year or two, but it ultimately dies out when everyone realizes there are no fixes for this. We just have to go on the best we can, unless we take our own lives, which I've known some patients on these boards to actually do. I'm at the point now where I realize that the best I can hope for is that I will get lucky and someone out there, finally, will be able to help me.
That's really what it comes down to. Luck. If I've learned nothing else from this experience, it's that luck is a much bigger driving force in what happens to us in this life than we'd like to admit, and that's a scary notion indeed. If the scales have tipped your way, and you're living a robust life filled with health, creativity and love, yes, you can pat yourself on the back to a certain extent for all of your hard work. But don't think for a minute that it all can't change in an instant through no fault of your own and you'll find yourself irrevocably changed. Be grateful and run with it, for when the tables turn, sometimes there really is no way back, and there's just no swallowing that pill. unless it's the kind that takes you out for good.