My Journey With Chronic Pain: Part 1

Today, I can move my head to the left and to the right and I can look up and I can look down.

But this hasn’t always been the case.

For close to a decade the very thought of these movements could be paralyzing and full of pain and fear.

I woke up one morning and I couldn’t get out of bed because I was in so much pain. I wasn’t paralyzed and I could feel all of my limbs:

My hands…..

Feet…..

Arms…..

Legs…..

And Fingers and Toes!

But I couldn’t lift my upper body or sit up.

I couldn’t even call out to my roommate to ask her for help because it hurt too much. I lay there for a while trying to work out how I was even going to get out bed and then I realized my only option was to log roll off the bed and fall onto the floor and walk myself, inch by inch, up to standing. Once I was vertical it felt like my head was a heavy bowling ball on a tiny stick and that it was going to roll off my body. It felt like my neck couldn’t support the weight of my head.

I know a lot of you are probably wondering did something happen to precipitate this painful morning? A car accident? A fall?

The answer is no.

Nothing happened to me or my neck prior to this morning of pain. In hindsight I wish there was. I wish there was an accident or fall or something that would have made sense to me as to why I was having this unbearable neck pain. At least I could connect the dots…..there would a reason for the pain.

Instead I had nothing.

I had nothing to point to, nothing or no one to assign blame. I think as human beings we are always looking for the why (thanks Simon Sinek) in situations. Certainly, at my core I want and need to make sense of things. So, to not have a reason for this pain was frightening. It was not until very recently that I connected FEAR to my neck pain.

This particular morning was the most fear I have ever felt in my life.

The feeling or emotion of fear rests in the amygdala in our brain. As per Wikipedia the amygdala is “one of two almond-shaped clusters of nuclei located deep and medially within the temporal lobes of the brain in complex vertebrates, including humans. Shown in research to perform a primary role in the processing of memory, decision-making and emotional responses (including fear, anxiety, and aggression), the amygdalae are considered part of the limbic system.[1] During a recent Healthy Wealthy & Smart podcast recording with molecular geneticist and fear strategist Robin Joy Meyers, she described fear as being tattooed into the amygdala. As we go through our life these tattoos can be inked in strongly or lightly.

FEAR had been so prominently tattooed into my amygdala on this morning and to this day has not been fully erased.

I wasn’t quite sure what to do but I thought I am a physical therapist….I will go to work and have one of my co-workers evaluate me and figure this out. I slowly and gingerly got myself dressed, wrapped my hands around my neck like a cervical collar and left my apt. As I was walking down the 4 flights of stairs from my apt to the street the thought of taking the subway to work terrified me. Would if someone bumped into me, would if the train was especially jerky that morning? I decided to forgo the train and hop in a cab for the trip downtown. All the while keeping at least one had around my cervical spine to support my neck. During this cab ride all I was thinking was: one of my co-workers will take a look at my neck and “fix it”.

Because isn’t that what we do as physical therapists…we fix people.

I had previously had surgery on my shoulder and had many injuries as an elite gymnast and athlete in my teens and twenties but this pain was different - it was all consuming. I couldn’t get away from it because it affected my whole body and every movement.

After a few weeks from the initial incident things got a little bit better. I regained more mobility and was able to function a bit better but….

The pain wasn’t going away.

This was the start of a long journey with neck pain. I woke up every morning with pain. Sometimes the pain would be centered in the neck and sometimes it would radiate to my arms, hands and mid back. There were days when I could not move my neck at all in any direction due to the extreme pain and fear I felt.

This pain took over my life:

My thoughts…..

My decisions…..

My personality…..

I went from a confident strong woman to someone who was more withdrawn, questioning, timid and unsure of my future. Over the next several years the intensity, duration and presentation of the pain would change.

But one constant remained: it was always there.

Clinging on to me as I did everything: went to work, went on vacation, spent time with family and friends, exercised but most prominently when I tried to sleep.

Lady Gaga quote from Vogue magazine in September 2018: “Chronic pain is no joke. It’s everyday waking up not knowing how you are going to feel.” 

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amygdala

 

If you are suffering with chronic pain and you can relate to my journey please do not hesitate to reach out to Kenny or myself. We are trained to help those living with chronic pain and are here to listen to your story and partner with you to guide you along the way.