I have a new friend. Its name is chronic pain. Since receiving the diagnosis of intercostal neuralgia, and learning that the condition is permanent, I have unilaterally viewed the pain as an adversary. The 24/7/365 symptoms of stabbing, throbbing, and dull pain around my ribs along with the muscle spasms and difficulty breathing would test the patience of anyone; of course, I would view such an interruption to my life as adversarial. Who wouldn’t?
Recently, though, I’ve made an effort to redefine my relationship with the pain from one that is tetchy to one of friendship, with the goal of creating a more harmonious living environment. This means putting aside my own personal agenda in order to incorporate Pain’s contribution to my daily routine.
The actuality of this new relationship means that there are daily discussions with Pain on how to execute a given day. The problem with Pain, aside from the obvious, is that our relationship is volatile. Pain is prone to yelling and temper tantrums, desires an inordinate amount of my attention, and does not respond to a reasonable discussion about just leaving and finding another place to live, perhaps moving to a warmer climate.
Over the years, it has been trial and error trying to determine how best to handle Pain. Time outs don’t seem to work, because, there just never is a time out from Pain. I’ve come up with some strategies to make my co-existence with Pain somewhat easier.
Let’s take running, for example. Running is the only sport in which I can perform on a regular basis. In fact, I can generally run every single day. What changes daily is how far or how fast I can run. In the past, when Pain was a foe, I turned myself inside out to maintain some kind of schedule in order to achieve the running goals I set for myself.
Time has made Pain crankier, therefore, I’ve had to relax the rigidity with which I have approached my running. I still show up for group workouts on a regular basis. Rather than force an interval session when Pain is screaming obscenities at me, I warm up with my group and then shuffle off on my own to complete a few more easy miles to placate Pain. And, every so often, Pain decides to cooperate and I can run fast or far or even both. Since Pain is stingy with those kinds of days, I have learned to appreciate them with the kind of wonder generally reserved for greater feats.
You see, just like me, Pain does not like complete idleness, but instead, Pain responds best to some movement. The fun part of our liaison is that Pain is passive-aggressive and doesn’t tell me how much movement I need; each day I must determine that sweet spot while I am on the go.
Most of the time, I can accurately estimate how much running Pain can endure. Every so often, Pain likes to mess with me and goes on an absolute tirade when I am a few miles from home. Those are the times I have to mollify Pain with pleading and words of kindness and by stopping now and again for Pain to catch its breath.
My daily living has also been altered to accommodate pain. I cut back on my work schedule to prevent Pain from getting riled up too often. When Pain becomes ill-tempered during the work day, I take full advantage of the fact that I work from home by lying down. The supine position is the one that makes Pain the happiest since it allows my abdominal muscles to relax. I don’t think Pain actually smiles when I lie down, but the grouchiness certainly dissipates.
Periodically, I try to make Pain happy with salves and creams and medicines, but Pain is stubborn and does not like those treatments. On the occasions, when Pain is being an obnoxious pest and a run is not feasible (there are only so many miles a mere mortal like myself can run) and a walk doesn’t pacify Pain, I do what I want, and that is watch a funny movie and immerse myself in some nonsense.