Chronic Pain Sucks Your Life Away

This week has been exceedingly difficult.  Frankly, I’ve spent most of it flat on my back.  No, get your minds out of the gutter, it wasn’t for that.

Sadly, I’ve been either trying to survive until today (being written at o’bloody-dark-30) when I will be traveling down to Eau Claire for a pain injection.  I did attempt to get in earlier (and had been told if all I needed was the injection, I would be fit in), but the reality is I have to discuss a few things with the doctor, so I had to wait for the first available time.

An injection doesn’t just stop working one day.  It kind of fades away.  And given that my body (as usual) doesn’t always work the way that the doctor thinks it should, it gets injected in a place he thinks shouldn’t actually work for my  pain.

You see, I have two ruptured discs in my lower back.  This basically means that there’s a hole in the outer layer of the disc, letting the fluid inside leak into the spinal canal.  Enough of that fluid has leaked from my L4/L5 disc (see photo above) that it is in essence completely gone, and the nerve associated with it is pinched between the bones.  The fluid is still leaking from the L5/S1, but is not yet completely gone – but it is still pinching the associated nerve.

It took us a while to find the right spot to inject.  The first injection I ever got was just above the L4/L5, and lasted maybe a month.  They moved down to the L5/S1 for the second attempt, and sadly that only lasted a week.  Finally, they moved down to the sacroiliac joint (target shapes above), and we found our spot to keep the pain muted some.  It doesn’t go completely away, but it — along with other therapies — keeps it from being at a level where I can function somewhat.

This is not my first, or even my second, injection.  I believe this makes for the 6th one. The first couple lasted more than a year before I needed a new one. This last one? Only 6 months.

I’m not a good candidate for spinal fusion either.

Basically, the doctor is saying we’re fighting for a stalemate.  With enough rubbing together, the vertebrae should develop essentially cartilage calluses.  This is what spinal fusion does, but it starts with essentially drilling some screws into the bones, and holding them together with a plate.  This is what they tried to do to my foot, but I ended up breaking two of the screws and the plate itself.  And absolutely no fusion of the bones that were intended.  So, yes, I have the same problem going on in my feet.

On the other hand, there are supplements I can take that should encourage such cartilage calluses.  It won’t be quick.  It is likely to take years.  But, we can hope.

It’s also why I am working to find a way to do aqua therapy closer to home.  As I have said before, the only water therapy pools around here are either in Amery (approximately 40 minutes south-west of my home) or on the south side of Eau Claire (almost 2 hours south of my home).  The drive to Eau Claire is cost-prohibitive even just for one day out of a week.  And I tried the Amery one, but I was only allowed a 1 hour time slot (exercises + cardio is a 2 hour minimum), and by the time I drove home the muscles that had not only gotten exercised but loosened from the heat were tense and stiff again.

The plan is fairly straightforward.  If I can do 3 days a week, along with the injections and medical support, I should be able to strengthen my muscles to the point where they are carrying more of the stress on the bones, which means less pain.

On top of this, I’m still struggling with the PTSD, anxiety and depression.  And with the psychiatrist changing me from Celexa to Effexor, I’m also struggling not to sleep excessively.  Frankly, for most of the last two weeks Ive been sleeping 14+ hours a day.

Now, some of that can be how the Effexor and my Amitriptyline (taken to help me sleep) are interacting. Because I’m highly aware of how my body reacts, I’m experimenting with levels of each, because I take multiple pills of both.  Hopefully, I can find a balance between sleep and emotional support.

It’s not fun to sleep so damned much, plus when I AM awake be in more pain because the injection is wearing off.  It doesn’t allow me even to do art, because I can’t really sit still to do it.  Even if I’m sitting, I’m constantly moving my legs and feet because to let them be at rest means even more pain.  That means my hands aren’t steady to do the art.

And tonite?  The anticipation for the injection (and the fact I have to take “non-emergency medical transport” because my normal driver…necessary because I’m getting conscious sedation…is out of town with the only vehicle) is pushing all of the anxiety buttons.  Why? Because when I am not behind the wheel of the vehicle, I have to trust the capability of the driver.  This driver is an unknown.  I have no basis to trust that they are a careful driver.

Go ahead, call me a control freak.  Hell, I call myself one.  But, when you’re dealing with heightened anxiety and trying to recover from it, sometimes the only way to quell the anxiety is to control the situation as much as possible.  I’m trying to relax that issue, because it isn’t really helpful.  But, the “unknown” factor tends to keep me awake, no matter what tools I use to attempt to release the anxiety.

It bugs me to no end to lose most of 2 weeks to my issues.  I know that it is necessary, and that I should give myself mercy about it.  It’s part of the recovery process to allow myself to heal the way my body wants to.  I was supposed to go into the local gallery to finalize some things for selling my art out of it, but I haven’t been able to even do that short errand.

It just makes me feel useless.

This, my dear friends, is why depression and anxiety is so deadly for some people.  When one feels useless, it is only a short step to feeling hopeless.  When you feel useless, you start to think of yourself as a burden on the people you love.  The negative emotions and thoughts start building up, and thoughts of self-harm are an option that starts to look feasible. Suicide might even seem to be the solution for the issue, because you think:“If I do this, at least it will be over.  I won’t be a burden on anyone.”

Now, before you all freak-out, I am not a suicide risk.  I have only considered suicide as a possible option exactly ONCE in my life.  It was at a particularly bad low-point in my marriage and even that thought maybe seemed rational for about a minute before my “never give up” attitude reasserted itself.

But, that’s just me.  It doesn’t make me any better than someone who seriously considers suicide, or who even attempts it.  It just makes me different than them.

DO NOT blow someone off as malingering if they are depressed or anxious or both.  It is a real issue.  You don’t know how much I fight with myself on a daily basis.  You don’t know how hard I try to push myself, only to be reminded by my body and mind that I can’t do it.  I’ve spent most of my life “pushing through” the pain, depression and anxiousness that I have literally broken that part of me. I can no longer live in “crisis solution” mode 24/7 anymore.  It’s not about learning to say no to other people.  It’s about learning to say NO to myself.  It’s about learning to evaluate my level of energy on a given day, and being honest TO MYSELF about how much I can accomplish that day.

 

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