I’m thinking a lot these days about pain management. Mitigating pain has been a big part of my life these last few months.
When my sister and I were helping our mother to die, at home and with as much dignity as is possible under the circumstances (not very much, as it turns out), alleviating her pain was our biggest concern. She got morphine for the physical part, but easing her mental anguish was much trickier, especially as she grew more confused.
More recently, I experienced excruciating pain in the rather banal form of a headache. I’ve been through some shit in my life, but until now, I’ve been fortunate not to know this particular misery. I don’t know how regular migraine sufferers do it, I really don’t.
As is my wont, I decided I was being a ridiculous baby about it. I mean. A headache, fer chrissakes. Yes, it was blindingly awful. And, okay, so the pulsing ache went down my neck and back, up the side of my face, through my temple and into the top of my head. And yeah, I was starting to experience cognitive difficulty and my tongue felt weird and heavy in my mouth. I could handle it.
The Headache of Doom arrived on a Friday and still hadn’t gone by the following Tuesday. I might have continued my absurd endurance test indefinitely except that 1) the entire editorial staff of Sweatpants & Coffee, who also happen to be my spiritual ride or die crew, unanimously urged me to go to the ER immediately (Jessica threatened to come over and drag me) and 2) I was supposed to leave the next day for a much-anticipated family vacation to Ireland and I seriously contemplated not going because surely the other passengers on the 10 hour flight to Dublin would be irritated by my involuntary whimpering.
I went. No one laughed at me. The doctor actually couldn’t believe I’d waited five days, but then maybe he had not been raised Catholic and was unfamiliar with the concept of redemption through pain (I’m a heathen now, but some things stay with you). Anyway. I got intravenous Valium and a saline drip. I was given meds to take with me and instructions to reduce stress – again, maybe the nice young doctor had never been on vacation with extended family. I ended up going on the trip. The headache came along, too, but I was able to contain it. Mostly.
It only got really bad when I forgot the cardinal rule of pain management which is: stay on top of it. My natural tendency is to ignore the pain until it is raging and then capitulate. I have this pesky Impostor Syndrome thing where I always think I’m faking and then I feel weirdly validated when things get bad enough that I can no longer function. THEN it counts. This is neither healthy nor effective. I know this. And even as I type this, I imagine my husband printing it out and highlighting that last line so he can wave it in my face the next time I go into noble suffering mode.
Any professional will tell you – it’s much easier to manage pain with regular doses of medication than it is to get it under control after you’ve let it go unchecked. It’s just that much harder to get yourself back to zero once you’ve gone nuclear. This is true of all kinds of pain.
I tend to ignore or discount my emotional pain until the only way I can express it is in a scream. There’s a part of me that feels small and selfish if I even acknowledge my hurts and needs. The part that feels unworthy. The part that is afraid to take up too much space. The part that would do anything to avoid possible scorn or rejection or failure. It prefers to languish silently, swelling like some menacingly pustulent blister until it explodes over everyone and everything in its vicinity.
But I’m learning. I’m getting better at checking in with myself and administering treatment before things fester. Do I need a walk? A drink of water? To connect with a friend? Maybe a call in to a therapist? A date night? Perhaps lock myself away with a notebook or some craft supplies? Sometimes it’s as simple as Xanax, a bit of chocolate, and a Netflix marathon.
Pain management looks different for everyone. Your mileage may vary. Being diligent about it means life is better and people won’t have to worry about getting hit by our shrapnel. The point is, I deserve care. So do you. It’s not selfish; it’s necessary.