Playing games with pain

It’s not so much the intensity, but the persistence.

Last night I about gave up.


I have mentioned in the past, either obliquely or overtly, that pain is a constant companion for me.

I was recently asked as I winced while taking a step if it was my rheumatoid arthritis flaring up and I had to admit that I didn’t know. Probably not, I finally surmised after a few seconds of thought.

In this particular case, it was the whole of my foot and my calf from ankle to knee. My arthritis is firmly located in the joints (namely fingers, toes and the occasional ankle or knee flare-up). I don’t know for sure what was causing my pain, but seeing as my body is one big inflammation that no professionals are willing to take seriously beyond prescribing me the one thing I won’t take — antidepressants — I couldn’t say what exactly the source of that pain is.

The doctor who ended up diagnosing me with RA at first laughed at me when I told her I was in constant pain [you know, because pain is hilarious], noting my age (at the time, around 38) and poo-pooed my suggestion that, because my mother had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, that I was concerned I might have something similar. “Oh no, men almost never get that!” she laughed. “But if you insist that you have persistent pain, I will authorize a test to check for inflammation antibodies. But I expect a negative.”

The joke was on her. I had RA.

Type 2 Diabetes is, by itself, an inflammatory disease. I was borderline until a pain med for RA pushed me into the disease full-on. And, as you might expect with inflammatory diseases, it can cause all sorts of pain. And the doctors I’ve tried to work with don’t seem to have advanced their knowledge of T2D since their residency, as they keep promoting old diabetes management techniques that have been since proven to be fraught with poor assumptions, and they wave off things like managing diabetes through carb intake (they are still working under the good carb/bad carb paradigm and “the Mediterranean diet cures all ills” mindset).

I haven’t been taking the RA meds and, honestly, the pain hasn’t increased overall and I’m thankful for not having my quarterly vampire session at the doc’s (they need to check your liver numbers because of the meds). But, likewise, it hasn’t decreased either.

One of the bothersome things about chronic pain is that you never feel rested because you are always in pain. The past few weeks have been terrible for flare-ups. Last night, I was willing to trade in my life to be pain free. It seemed like a fair trade. I kept thinking about Billy’s gravestone epitaph, from Slaughterhouse-Five:

I thought: I could live with that.

You see, I was having a general fireworks display of epic proportions in my legs last night. Localized flashed of discomfort that kind of flash along all parts of my calves, feet and ankles like someone lighting sparklers along the lengths of each. As you might imagine, sleep is impossible under those conditions, with pain ripping up your lower extremities.

And I just wanted to to sleep after several months of being in pain for one thing or another all night every night… So the opposite of living didn’t sound so bad as long as I could rest in peace.

As I said, it’s not so much the pain, as the persistence that drives you bonkers when you have my issues. This pain is no big thing — unless you can’t get away from it.

Seeing as death is kind of messy for those left to clean up the mess, I started thinking about those cascading flashes just as I described them above — fireworks. And, instead of “pain”, I played a game with that notion and decided they were “discomforts” instead of something more piercing. I’d read recently that a neurologist was working on a theory of pain and, because there are no “pain” nerves as such, he described all pain as being the brain’s opinion. The brain makes an interpretation of the signal it receives as “pain”, but there no direct confirmation of that opinion.

So I played this game when I imagined the flashes of pain were sparks of electricity dancing in my legs, willing a different opinion on the matter.

I finally fell asleep. Because it worked and I conned my brain into thinking differently or I just slid off into sleep because of exhaustion — who knows?

But I’ll probably start playing with this concept more because it seemed to at least get my brain to turn the focus off on the pain.

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