(short form of this blog first published on The Mighty in 2019)
Chronic illness can be very unpleasant. Its tiring and often painful. When you suffer from chronic pain it can sometimes feel like you are the only person in the world who feels this way. That is the isolating thing about it. However, once you speak to other people you often hear “Oh my god that’s exactly what happens to me” and realise there are lots of us around. Sometimes this is helpful and sometimes you couldn’t care less. Sometimes you exhaust all your daily avenues of relief and can only make the choice between curling up in a ball of abject misery or, instead, curling up in a ball of abject misery and trying to find a bright side. I found during one particular flare-up I could describe my pain to my family only using an analogy of toothache. That it was that awful, continuous gnawing pain you can get in your mouth, only instead it is radiating down one of your limbs – in my case it often affects my shoulders and upper arms making sleeping on my side nigh on impossible – making sleeping generally nigh on impossible generally in all honesty. Whilst discussing this analogy of my arm pain with a friend who also suffers with fibromyalgia we found we could both identify several types of pain we both recognised. This led on to me developing a blog to describe the various types of pain I have identified over the years. Maybe you will recognise some of them.
‘Poker Pain’ : That searing pain where you can only assume someone crept up behind you in order to stuff a red hot piece of metal in the joint space space where your bones meet. The ‘fun’ thing about poker pain is that when it is at it’s worst you move the joint only to find a whole new level of painful.
‘The Bear Trap’ : Pain so mind-bendingly unignorable you would cheerfully gnaw your own limbs off to escape from it. Bear trap pain can often reduce me to tears. Ironically if anybody approaches me at this point they are at serious risk of being bitten. For your own safety walk up slowly brandishing chocolate.
‘I’ve Got A Cavity’ : The pain I described above. This pain feels like the insanity inducing pain you feel when you have a toothache. But instead it radiates down an entire limb just for shits and giggles. Often quite good friends with Paralysing Pain and Bear Trap Pain.
‘Paralysing Pain’ : “Please don’t make me move. please don’t make me move” . Paralysing pain holds you in place because moving only encourages it to be more of an arsehole. Polar opposites to the Yoga Class.
‘Ten Ton Pain’ : The pain that makes your arm feel ten times as heavy as usual. At this point I always have a mental image of a cartoon of a circus weight – the ones with the weight written on it in white paint – hanging from each bicep. When this hits I will usually lift my hands a few inches before deciding the effort simply isn’t worth it and leave them floppy on the sofa instead. Often a precursor to ‘The Athlete’. I often get Ten Ton Pain with an M.E. flare up and have to lie flat because the weight of my head increases by a factor of at least five meaning I feel like a Chupa Chups lollipop.
‘The Tourist’ : Another fun facet of chronic pain is that it doesn’t always remain static but likes to take a tour of my body. I can wake up with shoulder pain and an hour later it will have appeared in my left ankle, right index finger and the side of my right foot. By the evening it has settled in for the duration in my neck. It is rarely considerate enough to send me a postcard and likes to steal shower supplies.
‘Ice Pick Pain’ (that you get so good at handling you can continue your routine while it appears at regular intervals) : Mostly in the head – over my left eye personally – but the cold metal stabs have been known to appear in other places. It happens so often now I have been known to continue a conversation with only the mildest of pauses (“So what are you doing AAAHrrrowaaah on Thursday afternoon?”)
Thermostat pain. This comes in two temperatures:
‘The Radiator’ :”It hurts so much my entire hand feels hot and I need to douse it in freezing cold water”
‘I Like Warm Hugs’ :”Get me 24 wheat bags STAT” Ten Ton pain and paralysing pain often like wheat bags and I lie on my bed covered in hot, rice filled bags which I rotate periodically when the Tourist turns up.
‘The Editor’ :”Who crumpled up all my muscles and ligaments into a paper ball?” Attempting to straighten them out is often the job of The Athlete
‘Fuzzy Pain’ : Not as cute as it sounds, more like having an angle grinder digging into you and the prickling makes you squirm. Fuzzy pain usually affects my shoulder blades and I suddenly discover I am malleable enough to make them meet in the middle of my back attempting to shrug it off.
‘Yoga Class’ :Pain that earns you odd looks due to the obscure calisthenics you have to do to try and appease it – see Fuzzy Pain and The Editor
‘The Heart Beat’ :That pain that appears to have its own pulse rate. Unfortunately never goes into cardiac arrest. Defibrillator not yet tried but often feels tempting.
‘The Shower Knob’ : There is only one spot in your range of motion that doesn’t hurt… and its only 1mm long. Alternately known as the toaster dial.
‘WD40 Pain’ :That pain that feels like you just need to crack the joint to unstick it, despite already having tried doing it 20 times… and now your ligaments ache from trying. The joint clicking and cracking while I do this is often irritating for my family as I sound like a set of castanets being swung around in a cloth bag.
‘The Taser’ : Like you have resisted arrest and now you are paying for it. Usually creates work for The Editor.
‘Primark/Target Pain’ (No, not having to shop there) : Like being out clothes shopping and touching a lift door or escalator handle… only inside your skull. Known amongst the chronic pain community by the affectionate moniker of brain zaps. Unfortunately this makes it sound like a sour sweet marketed for children instead of an irritating arsehole that makes it difficult to talk like a regular person owing to the regular electric shocks inside your head.
‘Mediocre Superhero’ : When the pain is sending out electric pulses through your body but it’s only you that’s hurting. With some training it could probably wield lightning like the Emperor dude from Star Wars, However instead it contents itself with using it’s powers to cause your body to throb like the subject of a bad valentines poem. Often shops at Primark/Target.
‘Iron Fist’ :When you are in metal work shop at school only it’s your skull in the vise. You have to hang onto your head to convince yourself that your eyeballs will not, in fact, be pushed out the sockets by the pressure from your brain expanding as it attempts to exit your head.
‘Thor’s Hammer’ : Unfortunately does not come with a muscular, blond god. Just a small, bastard gremlin who likes to play the drums inside your head using a bag of hammers for drum sticks.
‘The Athlete’ :When you know you have to move but it’s gonna hurt and you need a mental run-up first. When you are watching the Olympics and you see the skinny athlete who does the hop, skip and jump breathing rapidly in and out as they psyche themselves up you just know this is how you have to get out of bed some mornings.
‘Zombie Pain’ :Where you can’t feel a thing but somehow it hurts like hell. Unfortunately uses psychological warfare to convince you that you are going to feel this way forever. Ignore it’s lies.
‘Dora The Explorer’ :When someone has wedged a machete between your bum cheeks and is using your coccix as a fulcrum. Makes you walk funny. Unsurprisingly. Machete occasionally replaced with an implement from the Poker Pain range of hardware.
‘pH Balance’ : When someone strokes your skin gently and they seem to have acid on the skin of their fingers. Wind, clothes and bags also come with acid included.
Ok so chronic pain isn’t really that funny. But a lot of people will recognise these and maybe even think of them next time The Tourist or Dora The Explorer strikes and at least manage a wry smile. Maybe you will recognise a few – or even all of these pains. There are probably many more people could add and I would love to hear about them in the comments, or your thoughts on the ones listed. But whichever ones you feel or have felt, know that you are not alone and there is a whole network of chronic pain warriors to share it with you. Wishing you peace and painfree time.
The Beanie Bard