Everyone experiences pain. From the minor headaches, broken bones, moving up the scale to post operative, child birth and severe burns. But imagine pain that never goes away. Chronic. Constant. Never ending.
After breaking my neck nearly three years ago I now have neuropathy, nerve damage that radiates pain from my neck into my arms and hands.
Imagine the lightest touch of a feather on the skin feeling like flames of fire penetrating through skin and flesh, excruciating pain radiating into the bones and limbs. The whole body wanting to shut down.
Not localised, the pain can be so intense simply living becomes an unbearable torture that doesn't have an end date, sometimes it lasts for just a few days, other times months.
And when this happens no adequate medicinal relief available. Opiates, neuropathic drugs, they mess with your organs and your brain and they don't end the pain, not completely. Constant, agonising, excruciating pain.
In my case most days it hums in the background, if you focus on it, its sore, uncomfortable, sore muscles, tired bones, perhaps equivalent to a headache but across the shoulders and down one arm. It's bearable, but it never ends. Despite this I can do normal things, go to work, exercise (nothing extreme), have fun with my friends, but there's always pain.
So you train the mind to distract itself, to focus elsewhere, outwards, inwards, anywhere, but where it hurts.
On other days, without warning, pain can be so severe, that basic movement like walking, lifting, just living, becomes the greatest of struggles. Muscles weaken overnight and carrying a small bottle of water is just too hard, let alone unscrewing the lid.
Explaining chronic pain is like talking to a brick wall. People cannot imagine it. They cannot see it. They cannot understand it. So in my world, I pretend as much as possible that it doesn't exist (except when it really hurts!). Besides, I can walk, use all my limbs, I am lucky and do not have the right to complain.
To live, to function as a 'normal' human being, everyday I take neuropathic medication that changes the messages from my brain to my nervous system.
It's a basic prescription compared to what's on offer for me, like checking into a hospital yearly for a week to sedate myself to reset the nerves... is there sunshine & cocktails in this hospital?! No way!
In America, 100 million people suffer from chronic pain. Four times more than diabetes. Nine times more than Cancer. In Australia, 20% of adults suffer from chronic pain, mostly aged 50+.
It's an epidemic. A disease. With no remedy or magical cure.
Generally most people who experience chronic pain do not know where to start their healing journey. They're lost in the system and often cannot afford alternative treatments.
I saw so many others victimised by their pain. Waiting for the system to fix them. Beaten down by their internalised agony, lost and without hope. It's no surprise that there are high rates of suicide for chronic pain sufferers.
However, despite my doctors assurances of medical advances, which quite frankly I nor anybody else can wait for. I believe there is hope for everyone. Near normality is possible. But it starts on the inside, you have to find an internal will and overcome the demons. Every case is different but trial and error exploring many different rabbit warrens will eventually lead to relief, if you want it.
Relief is multifaceted, takes a long time and complicated, my GP simply didn't know what to do with me, my case was "too complex".
I was incredibly fortunate to be admitted into a pain management program run by the Royal Melbourne Hospital who kick started a guided recovery pathway which included: pain specialists (prescribing every drug imaginable to formulate your personalised cocktail), physios & exercise physiologists (to rebuild and retrain a broken body), psychologists (to help understand the difference between mind/body, real pain vs. perceived, quality living), naturopaths (to heal the gut from consuming said cocktail of drugs), yoga, mindfulness and so on.
Just writing these words physically hurts. Yet despite the internalised agony at times, other times irritating annoyance, I continue to pretend to the outside world that I am normal. I won't let this pain beat me. I will not be a victim. I will continue to dream of a drug free, pain free future.
"Healthy plants yield abundant flowers and fruits. Similarly... smiles and happiness shine forth like rays of the sun."
I will smile, even when it hurts. I believe our minds are incredibly powerful, and a positive mindset can yield infinite possibilities.
Starting with these words, I want to help other chronic pain sufferers and raise awareness and build support.
For other victims of chronic pain, don't give up, keep trying and keep looking outside of conventional medicine for help, continue to explore and refine your personal treatment plan, for "our bodies are our gardens, our wills are our gardeners".
I'm not sure how, but this is the start and I hope to help others more, and so can you.