I suffer from chronic back pain. It’s due to a long-term issue that will never really go away, and I have just learned how to live with. But, it’s still back pain. It’s still chronic pain. It’s still something that I have to think about whenever I make any sort of plans.
“Will this aggravate my back?”
“Can I handle being in a car for that long of a trip?”
“Did I pack my pain relievers, essential oils, and icy hot?”
This past weekend I went on an adventure with the young adult group from my church. We went to a park in St. Paul, Indiana. A park called “White Rock” that had large rock jetties and cliffs that reached up to 30 feet tall, and were filled with beautiful, clear blue water. We had about twenty people in our group, and when we got to the park we split up into smaller groups and went off to jump off of tall ledges into water.
I went with the group that was jumping off the rope swing, which was 15-20 feet up. I was in the middle of the line, a few people in my group were in front of me, and a few people from my group were behind me. We chatted and laughed and joked while we were waiting in line, and we all watched the people in front of us jump while we were waiting. Eventually, it came time for my turn. I grabbed the rope, stood on the correct ledge, and jumped. I then hit the water in the exact wrong way and felt excruciating pain up my spine into my neck and jaw. A little further investigation found that I had chipped a tooth and bruised the skin around my hips and ribs.
So I decided that I was done. I would not be jumping off of anymore ledges, and I was not going to get in the water again. Because, if I remember anything from watching my dad deal with back pain my whole life, it’s that if you hurt enough that you are sleepy, you don’t get into water, and I was sleepy.
However, me being “One and Done” was not okay with a few of the guys on the trip with me. I think that they thought I was freaked out about chipping my tooth, or afraid of heights, or something similar, so they wanted to help me face my fears. Which is kind and sweet, if I had been afraid. But I wasn’t afraid, I was in pain. And I didn’t want to tell them that, because saying “my back hurts” really just ruins the fun. Typically, people have one of two reactions to that sentence. They either freak out and act super concerned and super nurturing, which is sweet, but just makes me feel bad for them worrying. Or it gets treated as no big deal, a “yeah, I’m a little sore too”, which is almost insulting, because I’m not just sore, I wish I was just sore. I have yet to meat somebody who treats chronic pain with any sort of middle ground. Which, isn’t anybody’s fault. We, as a culture, don’t give enough attention to chronic pain for people to know how to treat it. So, instead of saying “my back hurts” and getting one of those two reactions, I told everybody that I didn’t want to get wet again since I was already dried out from the first jump, or that chipping my tooth freaked me out a little bit so I wasn’t going to jump again.
So instead of being the injured girl, I was the party pooper, who refused to jump off another cliff, and went and changed into dry clothes early.
And I think that’s the point of this blog post, is that sometimes, there is no right response. Sometimes, there is no polite way to say “let me make my choice”. Sometimes, you have to be mean, or a party pooper, to get people to leave you alone. Because, sometimes you need to be left alone to make your own choices about your health.
I was in horrible pain for most of the rest the day, and that’s not anybody’s fault. It’s nobody else’s problem to deal with. It’s a choice that I made, to handle that alone and not tell anybody I was hurting.
I took my medicine. I used my Icy Hot. I sat in a driving position that was weird to others, but comfortable to me. And when I got home that night I took a hot bath, put on my baggiest sweat pants, and went to bed early.
I want to pause for a minute and say a few things right here, that I think are important to specify:
It is not my friends’ fault that I was in pain.
It is not anybody’s fault that I have this issue.
I am not writing this post, trying to make anybody feel guilty.
The point of this post is for me to practice being vulnerable and honest about some harsh truths of life.
I am lucky, in terms of back issues. While I deal with chronic, daily pain, I am not in need of any sort of walking or movement assistance, and I do not have to turn down opportunities to do things (like jumping off a cliff) because of my back.
I do not want to let this define my life or quality of living.
I am not trying to play the victim card, because this experience does not make me any sort of victim.
I say all that, because I feel like there are things that people automatically assume about people who mention chronic pain. Sometimes, people underestimate the severity of another person’s experience with chronic pain, and people with chronic pain often try to make it into a competition over who’s pain is worse. And that’s not what I’m trying to do here. That’s not what this blog post is about.
But the things is, today I woke up, and my back hurt. My back hurt really badly.
Badly enough, that sitting in my desk chair at work made it worse, so I am writing this post from the floor of my co-worker’s office.
Today I woke up and my back hurt badly enough that none of my clothes were comfortable. I am wearing loose jeans and a baggy blouse today.
Today I woke up and my back hurt badly enough that I felt sick to my stomach. My mom just called me seeing if I wanted lunch, and the idea of food made me want to puke.
Today my back hurts. Today my back has hurt all morning. Today my back will probably hurt most the afternoon. Today my back hurts, and I didn’t do anything to irritate it. I haven’t jumped off any cliffs, or gotten any new injuries. It just hurts. It hurts with no cause or correlation. And nothing that I’ve done has helped fix it.
Today is just a bad day.