Living with chronic pain: ‘I was determined to overcome the challenge life had set me’
A few minutes some 20 years ago changed my life for ever. Trying to prevent a robbery left me critically injured and fighting for life – a broken back, shattered ankles and head injuries led to many operations, nine months in hospital followed by 12 months in a rehabilitation centre as my battered body fought to recover.
It was tough with many ups and downs along with days of despair and frustration but I was determined to overcome the challenge life had set me. A constant companion was pain at a level I had never experienced before which left me physically and emotionally drained, often getting in the way of my recovery.
It made me irritable and at times difficult to get on with. I hate to imagine what people thought although I often wondered if they really understood my pain as they could not see it or feel it. Heavy doses of medication left me feeling out of control of my life along with physical discomfort which manifested in several ways. I had this nagging believe that one morning I would wake up and the pain would be gone.
After all the injuries I had suffered in the past, I wondered why the pain was not fading away this time. My family life suffered; the inability to play with my young daughter upset me and my partner asking why I got involved in the first place contributed to wearing me down.
Things came to a head and I moved house to the other side of the county. My new GP casually asked if I had been to a pain clinic. I had no idea what he was talking about so I encouraged him to tell me more. Incredibly I discovered that within the very hospital I had been a patient in there was a very good pain clinic – nobody had mentioned it!
Many weeks later I went to my first appointment only to be told: “you do realise that your chronic pain will be with you for the rest of your life?” What a reality check but one that today I deeply value as it showed me the challenge I faced. I cannot deny I was frightened – very frightened – and this is someone who had worked in several dangerous situations. How could this be and how could I deal with it? I left with yet more medication and a steely determination that the pain would not beat me.
A few months passed and I wanted to try to ease the side effects of the medication so I moved to other forms of treatment such as acupuncture, TENS and physiotherapy, remaining on just one type of medication that really helped. Physically I was not doing so well, so I underwent further surgery which went badly wrong, resulting in another long stay in hospital plus four further operations.
Things came to a head and I cracked under the strain – feelings of utter frustration, wondering when it would all end, when could I go back to work and when could I once again support my family. I felt isolated and totally useless. Luckily I received help from a very dedicated and caring healthcare professional, who over a period of 18 months helped rebuild my confidence and self-esteem. My daughter was marvellous – a five-year-old who would change my wound dressings when I saw her. I am so proud of her!
Gradually things changed for the better, more operations followed but I was strong enough to handle them in a positive way. My pain was still there but it was no longer the major player in my life so I could move forward. My injuries prevented a return to work so I moved into the voluntary sector seeking to learn new skills, keeping occupied and getting out of the house to talk to people. How often do you talk to the walls only to get the the wrong answers?
Today my philosophy in life is to focus on what I can do rather than that I cannot. I talk freely about my experiences in order that others may benefit from them and that the public have a better perception of the potential impact of chronic pain on an individual and their family. Yes, I have good days and bad days but I find sharing my emotions with those around me is invaluable.
I laugh (and sometimes quietly swear) at my shortcomings – humour is a great tonic. I look forward to tomorrow knowing that although my pain will be there I will do my best to not let it get in the way. If you have chronic pain talk to others around you so that they can get some understanding of what you are going through. Tell them how it affects you, how you deal with it and how they can help you.
During my journey I have found many people who would like to help but do not know where to start. Often they are afraid to ask, so if you do not tell them they will not know. My family understands me now, they can read my ups and downs, know what support I need or if I should be left well alone.
Resources like the Pain Exchange are also a great way to interact with other people who are in pain and talk to someone who knows what you are going through. When I look back to those early, dark days and see where I am today it seems but a dream. Hard work, determination and staying positive along with wonderful support from family and friends, as well as several healthcare professionals seems to be the ingredients of my success.
This week members of the public on London’s South Bank have this week taken part in the Pain Exchange Buzz Wire Challenge to try, against the clock, to navigate the twists and turns of a giant buzz wire in the shape of the word ‘pain’. The event launched The Pain Exchange – a new campaign to provide the 5 million people who develop chronic pain in the UK every year with the language and confidence to talk about their pain more openly.
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