Note: This post is not an exercise in self pity or seeking sympathy. It is an individual glimpse into what over 50 million people in the US live with to some extent on a daily basis. Just because someone does not look ill does not mean they are not battling excruciating levels of pains. Those receiving treatment for chronic pain disorders are not crazy or drug abusers. Instead of stigmatizing these patients and harassing doctors for isolated cases of misuse I dare regulators and the uneducated to spend a day in our shoes. It is time to provide greater support to the victims and their families.
I sprawl on my rumpled bed, sheets twisted around the fluffy comforter, that provides little soothing in the darkest night. The firm pillows and the down feathers support my spine as my words spill out to the shadows. The firm u-shaped collar wraps around the burning ache of my neck, absorbing all of the ideas trapped in my heavy head. The long body bolster provides a silent and unresponsive substitute for the company I rarely hold. A thin cream cotton throw, tags along my journeys each day, absorbing the silent tears running down the sullen, curves of my face. Moisture that is always concealed from those who might ask the cause and suggest a subsequent remedy.
Modern medicine cannot cure all afflictions. What worked for a family member's neighbor or the postman's spouse are only false hopes offered with the best of intentions without true knowledge of the battles I no longer have the will to fight. My most reliable glimpses of comfort come from my closest companion's licking my cheeks when the heavy sobs interrupt her snoring slumbers. Only this bundle of tawny fur knows the true degrees of despair to which I descend. This is a secret she lovingly keeps as she abides by my side, pressing her warmth against my aching back.
My bed table holds the essentials of life as I have come to know it. Pain cream for aching muscles and joints is needed just to get out of the bed. Pain patches wait to be affixed to irritated skin where they provide 24/7 doses of medication, if I do not sweat them off. Muscle relaxers, and opioids stand ready for the increasingly rougher times. Sleep aids offer a brief escape when nights become unbearable. Crackers and a bottle of water sit ready to combat chronic pain's frequent traveling partner, nausea.
The most ironic of all is the bottle of antidepressants prescribed to help me cope with the losses brought on by my conditions. My cell phone sits within reach, but there is no one to call. My friends have jobs and families. They are asleep at 3AM when I need support. My family says they are always there to call for assistance, something I can never bring myself to do. Now, the television and my iPad are my connections with the external world.
Gone from my bed table are my most cherished items. I miss the basket of students' journals and the purple pen I used to converse with each one before sleep. There is no longer a need for the pad of paper I kept to jot down creative learning activities or the books I read to supplement upcoming lessons. The subscriptions to professional journals and magazines that inspired me to keep trying have been cancelled. My dissertation tools and research have been boxed away. The family photographs were moved when I began dropping things and cracked the glass frames. I wonder if anyone even notices the absence of my Women's Bible and Devotional that once began my days?
To read this you would think I am an octogenarian, yet I am barely 40. Less than a decade ago I had an energetic life raising three children of my own and teaching those with emotional and behavioral challenges during the day. I even served as a crisis counselor for first responders. Late Friday afternoons were spent over drinks with fellow educators and weekends were focused on enjoying family time. Late nights were spent working on a PhD I will likely never attain.
Back then, my room was a refuge, not the prison it has since become. I found pleasure in hobbies and happiness in my vocational calling. Now I possess no desire to participate in the former joys of life. I have lost hope and faith. I no longer have the energy to attend to my physical appearance, so gone are the makeup and salon visits. I have no appetite. I simply eat what is presented to me to please others. Life merely passes with time holding me captive for some obscure reason.
I took my youth and health for granted, but the searings I experience in my neck and shoulders as I write this remind me that my body has become my foe. It is the enemy that has robbed my family of a wife, mother, sister, daughter, aunt, niece, and eventually a grandmother. It is a thief that has taken me out of the classroom and counseling center preventing me from serving as the Lord called me. My body has become a traitor showing me my uselessness in a world that continues on without notice of my absence. It acts as an evil conspirator who taking away my faith and desire to go on, yet leaves me in the hell of watching the living endure the burden I have become.
On good days I venture downstairs, always alone at first because I know I will find the disarray I am no longer strong enough to prevent. A chaos that did not exist before. I always make sure that I am alone hiding the blinding tears that fall. I tackle the few small tasks I can before exhaustion claims me once again. I shed tears of defeat and sorrow for all that I've lost, mourning for what I will never have again. As the years pass and more issues arise I wonder if I ever really was a community leader, beloved teacher, and scholar. I do not wish to be a burden nor do I seek pity. On the rare occasion that I must face the public I have learned to hide my physical and emotional pain behind a mask, but I can only do this for short periods of time. At home, I isolate to shield my family from the monster I have become. I once saw an attractive and successful lady when I glanced in the mirror, now all that remains are the tired and haunted eyes of a stranger.