Living with chronic pain: ‘I was determined to overcome the challenge life had set me’

Ian Semmons
back pain 300x225 Living with chronic pain: I was determined to overcome the challenge life had set me

Ian Semmons (right) at the Pain Exchange

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.

back pain getty creative 300x225 Living with chronic pain: I was determined to overcome the challenge life had set me

Posed by model (Getty Creative)

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.

Tagged in: ,
  • Geoffrey (Delight Medical)

    Quick disclosure: I work with a medical practice that specializes in pain management using prolotherapy.

    Though the above article is disheartening, its not all that uncommon. We’ve found that our patients’ initial consultations in many cases are the first time they’ve actually verbalized their pain to another human being.

    There’s seemingly a social stigma attached to any discussion of pain—almost as if its overly narcissistic. With the variety of social media available, its odd that only recently has chronic pain become an acceptable topic of discussion.

  • GoodLuck2

    I was let down very badly when i first started with chronic leg pain in my late 20,s my ankles started swelling in my boots whilst going up and down ladders, then that moved on, and i started with spasm in my calf,s when walking, unless you suffer this kind of pain personally you just do not understand and this is the problem when you finally have to consult a GP.

    I ended up taking 8 tylex a day whilst being treated for osteoarthritis and it just did not shift the pain so i started drinking heavy and to cut a long story short i was reading the paper and read a story about a former footballer who was showing all my symptoms but he was diagnosed with MS.

    When i told my GP i wanted to see a neurologist he said the waiting list was so long – i insisted he refer me and i paid to go private and after the first visit which i paid for, i was seeing the neurologist as an out patient for a number of years and i was finally diagnosed with HMSPN my medication is now pregabalin which i started at a low dose – i now take 150 – 3 x day and tramadol and my pain is under control.

    The NHS is fantastic and the staff do an amazing job unless you are suffering chronic pain and the cause is not diagnosed early enough, i can now live with the side effects of the medication i am taking because that is 10 x better than chronic pain, if you are suffering long term nerve pain and you have not been offered pregabalin by your GP, consider asking he or she if you would be able to try it, i wish everybody who is suffering a chronic pain condition every success in finding some relief because only you know and understand your suffering.

  • nilshans

    Paris, a rainy day, pain everywhere. Please accept my apologies, I will not give the miracle recipe to a day without pain. In the Medical School Library you have tens of meters of books dealing with the subject. Pain is as old as life is. And yet we appear to have done so little progress. Pain is so illusive, basically it is a crypt ed message that issues from a conflict zone, travels through bombed zones and arrives at Brain Head Quarters to be analysed. As a consequence, you can have deep damage at the conflict zone and no pain message in the Brain, you can have intensive pain being flashed yet no conflict zone, you can have a pa&in message telling you of a conflict in the left foot while in fact the conflict is somewhere else. As to understanding why pain feels like pain, we have not done much progress. There are reports of crossed pathways when pain can be experienced as pleasure. Regretfully the reverse is also true. The most efficient way to cancel pain is to annihilate albeit temporarily the decryption Center in the brain or to confuse it by having the message read as telling you that something pleasant is happening. So many methods have been used. In the middle age a tooth would be extracted with intense drum music and it works, the brain is so saturated that it cannot handle the pain message. µThe reverse is true, the more you concentrate on the pain area, the more you close the environment messages, the more intensive is the pain.In the shelf of the Medical Library you will also find meters of books about the cross over between pain and suffering.
    Basically, pain does not kill, suffering does.
    So we are left stranded naked with our pain and have to handle it best we can. The alternatives are many. Our first reaction is to send professional soother to the conflict zone. (cold pads, chemicals ) then it seems to be a good idea to cut the pathway by which the pain message travels, there are many forms of anesthesia, but it does assume that we know these pathways. The ultimate attack it to try and detask the

  • julianzzz

    Except you don’t seem very bright, there’s injuries and INJURIES, and pain and PAIN. I have a range of conditions but I don’t underestimate what others can go through….

Property search
Browse by area

Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter