When Coping Skills Collapse…

Dear Audy,

I fell a little bit behind in my NHBPM challenge, frankly, I fell a little bit behind in general. It’s kind of perfect that one of the topics that I’ve missed was to write about change; change is the exact reason that I had to take a break from blogging for a couple of days.

In learning to cope with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, I have to try to embrace change. Being inflexible is not a viable, long term option for me. I can’t rely on my body to stay in one state from moment to moment, let alone day to day. Embracing change isn’t easy. I’m not sure that’s where I’m at yet, I might still just be learning to tolerate it…

I’ve been having some trouble with my back for as long as I can remember, however that trouble decided to upgrade to TROUBLE in recent weeks and I’ve struggled to manage the fallout.

The tiniest changes can throw a sensitised body completely off course. My back problems usually start with a bit of a twist and then spiral into wayward pain syndrome symptoms throughout my body. There isn’t always a noticeable, injury-like trigger, sometimes it just seems to happen. I suspect that in these instances, there was a trigger, it was just so very slight that I didn’t feel it happening at the time.

How silly of me to unpack a dishwasher! How dare I bend down to pet the dogs! What was I thinking attempting to stand up from that chair?!

I see an osteopath regularly to help me keep my spine in line, however, sometimes shifting my skeleton back into a functioning place is just as painful as shifting it out of one. It can take a few days for my body to adjust to the adjustment. This past week has just been one of those occasions in which I take longer to recover than normal.

Extended recovery times are just par for the course with chronic pain. It takes less injury to knock our bodies out of whack and more effort to shift them back.

Sudden change, such as this, can be hard to deal with. My pain levels skyrocketed and my mobility seemed to be mocking me from just out of reach. I’ve needed my cane to walk, which tends to exacerbate pain in my right shoulder, because being unbalanced is a change too and all of the changes have consequences.

I thought I was almost recovered for a moment there and drove Sammy Fluffball to be transformed into HandSomemy, which is about a ten minute drive done twice.

Maltese Shih Tzu

Now I can’t look at him without thinking words like “adorabubble”

My back really struggled to accept this activity, despite all of my postural efforts to ease its pain. The following day brought all of the painful punishment and I had to resort to painkillers to stop the moaning.

Life with CRPS is not very action packed, however, losing the ability to even sit up places further limitations on activity options. Add to that the brain fog caused by enduring such high levels of pain, mixed with needing to medicate the problem, and the days can seem to stretch on forever.

There’s a lot of staring at the walls and cuddling of the dogs. There’s some Feldenkrais, some stretching, some attempts at walking evenly, some soaking in an Epsom salted bath, and a whole lot of trying to find ways to not get upset.

The days like this, the days that drag, are the hardest days to not think about the changes that CRPS has brought into my life. These are the days when I feel the most trapped, when I feel the most disabled. These are the days that exemplify just how crippling chronic pain can be. These are the days filled with longing so powerful that it’s hard to keep track of all the thought trails that are taking me towards sadness.

I want stability and things to hold onto. I want a springboard foundation from which I can fling myself towards any plans that I choose to pursue. I want to feel free in a moment, to feel limitless and safe. I want to turn back the clock and just freeze time there, in a pain free paradise of youth.

I want to change so much that you wouldn’t recognise me. Leap forward through time to that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, that place where dreams come true. I want to heal from my soles to my soul and morph into my butterfly self, my realised potential.

Escapism can be nice, but we all have to return to reality eventually, because it is always changing and there are things that need to be taken care of as they arise.

Yesterday was the day that it was all too much. Yesterday, I could hardly think rationally, all I seemed to do was feel. It was a beautiful day, you see, the kind of day that seems like a gift from the sun-kissed Spring. The kind of day when Instagram fills with smiles, scenery and Summer dresses.

The kind of day that sees temperatures rise and humidity become denser. The kind of day that my CRPS despises, that turns my bones to lead, melts my muscles, boils my blood and scorches the underside of my skin. The kind of day that casts a cloud over my mind, that zaps my energy before I even awaken, that weakens me from my knuckles to my knowing.

It’s so difficult to know things when one feels attacked by the very atmosphere that miraculously sustains life. I thought we were friends, Earth.

I lost grip and let go of coping. Perhaps I had to let go. Maybe, sometimes, it’s only possible to cope by not trying to. The ability to cry is built into us for a reason.

I waded in a dazed confusion for several hours before sinking into the sobs. I could feel the wave coming, but there was nothing to grab onto, no way to get back to shore before it hit. I gave up trying and just let it wash over me.

I acknowledged the deterioration in my physical and emotional states and then let go of the day, it was the only thing that I could do. I gave up striving to achieve anything other than getting those feelings out. Release was the only way past them.

Forcing words doesn’t work. I’ve tried before and I tried yesterday, but I can’t hear my muse when my mind is in a maelstrom.

I cried and I cuddled and I breathed deeply as the sorrow streamed down my cheeks.

Eventually, my inflamed emotional baggage seemed to empty and clear thoughts began to return in snippets. I engaged with some procedural hard drive rearranging; got a little something done that I’d been putting off. I practised some Feldenkrais, stretched, took a shower.

I switched myself into chill out mode and told some of my troubles to a bowl of ice cream.

I watched Krysten Ritter and Alicia Silverstone play vampires with hearts of gold and was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed it – sometimes cornball comedy is the perfect prescription. I watched Aubrey Plaza befriend a time travel planning crazy-cake, only to become completely absorbed in a sweet story that masqueraded as a confusingly cruel joke.

When emotions are boiling out of control, the simple movies can seem so much more preferable to the fancy-pants, popular ones. Light entertainment can be the perfect distraction when stories that run deeper carry a risk of re-igniting the crying.

I had dinner delivered and removed the physical danger of food preparation. This turned out to be a good thing considering my movement restrictions, because during the hour or so that I was eating, my ant-free kitchen lost its status in a spectacular way.

Little buggers were marching one by one directly from my laundry door to my kitchen bench. The nerve!

My indignation was quickly followed by a massacre that sucked any energy I had left for feeling things, or moving, right out of me.

I started to feel better. I started to feel like my strength would return soon.

Today, my back is feeling a little better at times and fairly messed up at others, but I am able to manage it more effectively than yesterday. I had been in such a state that my efforts at Feldenkrais had been too enthusiastic and I ended up making myself hurt more. Thankfully, today’s session only brought the better type of result and really helped me to get moving this morning.

I’m no longer feeling sad or guilty that I couldn’t be a perfect, every day blogger for thirty days straight. I’m giving my inner perfectionist the rudest gesture I’ve got. I’m feeling comfortable in doing my best and sometimes that means taking time out to just feel, process and rest.

Breakdown days can be inconvenient, but they are just a part of living a life with imposed limits. Experience has taught me that holding off on facing up to such days just drags the issues into the following ones. It can be a necessary delay sometimes, when there are unavoidable things to be done, but eventually the emotions always catch up and demand to be dealt with.

Do you have breakdown days, Audy? What helps you to come back from the emotional edge?

Thanks so much to everybody that has been supporting me in the NHBPM challenge! If you like what I am doing, please share these posts with the people that you share things with or click that little thumbs up. It’s CRPS Awareness Month, which is why I’m choosing to disclose a little more about my health on a daily basis. The more awareness that we can raise, the easier it will get for people who are navigating the choppy waters of chronic pain.

Love & Tissues,

P.S. I’m terribly behind at replying to emails and comments. Thank you so much to those who have written to me, I shall get to replying just as soon as I am able. 😉 xx

WEGO, CRPS Awareness Month, #NHBPM

This post written as a part of National Health Blog Post Month, run by WEGO health. Check out what people have been contributing via #NHBPM on Twitter, or joining the NHBPM Facebook Event.

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