I’m sitting here with a rolled up towel behind my lower back, a hot beanie bag over my shoulder, thinking about when to take my next Naproxen. I’m one of the many people who suffers with chronic pain.
There are two parts to my back pain: My lower back has a constant dull ache which covers the width of it, usually starts at the bottom and radiates up over time to cover the majority of the lower and middle back. Then there’s the upper back – what started as a stabbing pain in my left shoulder blade when I was 14 has now spread to cover the entire of my upper left quadrant and neck, in a sort of liver shape. This is a needley, nervey stabbing pain, probably caused by inflamed tissue which is irritating a nerve (the physio thinks).
The lower back pain began a few years ago – I’m pretty sure from work – and used to be intermittent. It’s now present about 80% of the time. The stabby shoulder thing started when I was about 14 – I thought from sitting at a computer – and only used to come on when I did certain things, like carry heavy loads of hug myself to keep warm (usually waiting for a bus). Then it got to the point where I couldn’t look right (I am Derek Zoolander’s mirror image) without it hurting. Now it’s present about 95% of the time (I can’t remember a day when I didn’t have it in the last 6 months), and is often bad enough to reduce me to tears. And that’s without doing any of the aforementioned activities to provoke it. It’s ever so slightly relieved by heat (hence the beanie bag) but not much. It really does feel like something sharp is lodged in my shoulder.
I’m on strong painkillers which destroy your stomach lining if you don’t take them with food (Naproxen), and constipate like a motherfucker (codeine). And they don’t really work either. But I’ve been told to persevere with the Naproxen so it can build up in my system and the anti-inflammatory effects can start to work.
Every day I am in pain. The only relief I get is sleep. I can still perform the same range of movements and activities as before my pain became chronic (in fact, if I stopped being active it would probably get worse), it just hurts to do them all. I cry and wince a lot. When people ask me how I am, I debate whether to tell them the truth – that I’m in constant pain, and that most of the time it’s unbearable and unrelievable – or just to shut up and say I’m fine, which is what most people want to hear. It’s having a massive impact on my ability to enjoy life.
I have now seen a physio who has given me exercises to do, although realistically the only way to do them the number of times I’m supposed to would be to sit in a chair all day, just doing back exercises. This is not compatible with having a life. He is going to send me to “back rehab”, and has promised to crack my back every week and do some soft tissue massage for me. I look forward to a time when my pain is manageable – I’m skeptical as to whether I’ll ever be pain-free – but until that time I’m pretty much miserable all the time. Being in pain really sucks it out of you.
So if I appear moody, moan a lot or am constantly pulling unattractive faces, I apologise for the social inconvenience. Chances are, if I’m talking to you, I’m in pain.
Today all I’ve done is sit at a computer with good posture and with a lumbar roll (a towel rolled up behind my lower back to support my lumbar spine), and my pain is 9 out of 10 bad.