I started this post days ago, erased it, and then started it again. By the time I got to today, it was a semi-living shell surviving solely on a mix of wretched emotions. I am not just talking about the type that are a bother, but more the kind tied to things you shove down deep inside in the hopes that they won’t resurface ever. This was not my week and I suppose it all started when the rose bushes started dying.
When you are living inside the smoldering bits of what is left of your life, it is sometimes hard to climb out of it all and dust yourself off. Given the hundreds and thousands of times you need to repeat this process, a person can get awfully tired. Each little thing, especially the things you used to take for granted, seem like an extra kick back into the ash heap. Even so, you slap on that smile and set about your day, using all the tools you know just to make it to bed time. The next day comes far earlier than you hoped, and less sleep than was needed. It isn’t that there isn’t good moments, because there always are. It is just that the things that make you smile can get overshadowed by this ever-present sense of soul-sucking misery. It all compounds until you are standing outside sobbing as you see every rose bloom dried to a crisped brown.
Fatigue and chronic pain have this way of working in tandem, gnawing away at your reserves. They make you more tired than you thought possible. That is really the only way to describe it…tired. Unfortunately, in those moments of exhaustion, we are at our most vulnerable. Your brain, craving respite, latches on to any approach that promises relief. The terrible part is that your brain will lie to you. It will settle for a few minutes of escape or the brief sensation of control before you feel horrible again. This is nothing to be ashamed of, but inevitably, there will be some sense of shame or guilt. After all, society seems to stigmatize anything other than steely acceptance or joyful perseverance. All other approaches are nothing more than personal failings that we can overcome by sheer will. Of course, this is a lie too, but it all adds to the burdens we already carry.
If we can be honest here for a minute, chronic pain diagnoses rarely exist in isolation. They are often comorbid with mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. While I have discussed a bit of the chicken-and-the-egg theory in the past, there is some research that is starting to show a correlation between inflammation/elevated c-reactive protein levels, which is common in nearly every chronic pain condition, and depression. Even without a biological propensity for depression, chronic pain influences lifestyle factors and reduces access to many traditionally recommended mental health coping strategies (i.e. exercise, visiting with friends, new hobby, etc.). As chronic pain patients, we are often left to come up with our own tools and resources to get us through the difficult days. Sometimes, this leads to maladaptive coping strategies. Therefore, it should come as no surprise, that comprehensive reviews of research continue to find “robust evidence that chronic pain itself, regardless of type, was an important independent risk factor for suicidality” (Racine, 2017).
The interesting thing about all of this information is that you can know it on a logical level and still feel as if you are somehow immune. What I have found is that there is no protective shield of knowledge and emotions can often fly in the face of logic. The only way to overcome this is to seriously look at how you are managing your chronic pain and thoughtfully consider your approach. It might be helpful to do this with a mental health professional or a really supportive and honest friend. Is it working for you and contributing to your overall quality of life? If so, take a moment or two to congratulate yourself. That is awesome! If it isn’t, it is time to start thinking about who you have as a support system. Speaking from personal experience, if you are going to start making some difficult life changes, you need people who will be there for you and love you even on the days you don’t feel much like loving yourself.
Last week, when I started writing this, I saw nothing but dead roses everywhere. This morning I noticed that beneath all the dead flowers, new buds were forming. Maybe, even when it seems like everything is hopeless, there is a chance for something new and beautiful to grow.