When Happy Memories Hurt

Dear Audy,

Have I really made it to my 9th NHBPM post? Well, hot damn. Let’s keep going. Today, I’m writing about memories.

When living with CRPS, there is a lot of down time and not always a lot of new stimulation. This can leave a person with little else to do, other than go over their thoughts and memories.

Sometimes, this can be a pleasant escape. A visit to happier times. Yet, other times it’s these happy memories that sting the most.

The reasoning for this is easily summarised in two words: never again. All of my pleasant memories from before I developed CRPS are of a person with a healthy body (mostly). She dances, that person, she runs and she giggles and she plays. Oh, how she plays.


She even does leg mounts in the ocean, apparently.

I remember learning to run. I was an adult before I realised that this was something that I still needed to do, I’d never been very good at it. I’d certainly never enjoyed it.

Like everything we can learn to do, I just needed to practise. I was so very self conscious, I didn’t want anybody to see me trying to run. I was embarrassed to be a running fat person. Hindsight has taught me that I should have been taking pride in my progression.

We all learn not to care what other people think at our own pace.

It was only when I was alone in the peaceful, familiar and much loved Australian bush that I found the courage to try. It started with little walk/run alternations. I would have been lucky to run twenty metres in the beginning. It felt awful, it took all the motivation I could find to push myself to keep practising.

Slowly, my legs strengthened and I learned more efficient ways of breathing. It’s amazing how much in life comes down to breathing in different ways – and there are so many different ways.

Soon, I was running more than I was walking and it felt good. I felt like a winner. It felt amazing. I learned to love the burn in my calves, the burn in my lungs, the burn of the sun on my nimble body.

How funny to realise that it’s burning that gives me so much trouble these days.

Remembering this now, I can summon that feeling of accomplishment, of happiness. This hasn’t always been possible during the CRPS years.

A while back, I saw a short clip of the me-that-ran in an old video. I started to cry and could hardly stand to watch.

I just miss her so much.

Handling grief is a huge part of learning to live with chronic pain. It turns out that a person can grieve for themselves, can grieve not just for the past but for the person that they were in the past.

I don’t remember where or when I first discovered or was taught this fact, there was a lot of medication riddling my system in the beginning. I do remember how I felt: enlightened.

Holy crap, I thought, grief is what I’ve been feeling this whole time.

Everybody grieves at some point in their lives, it’s a part of the human condition. We love and then, if we lose, we hurt. People experience this emotional process differently, however there is a well known model, the Kübler-Ross model, that describes five major stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.

Here’s a little insight into how these stages can relate to a person coping with chronic pain:


  • I probably don’t even have CRPS at all, this is just a misdiagnosis.
  • CRPS is not that bad, some cases clear up all by themselves within six months.
  • I’ll be back at work just as soon as I’m better.
  • When I’m better, I will do this, that and that other thing.
  • Anger

  • Bargaining

  • I’d do so much with my life, if only I could get better.
  • I’d advocate for those who can’t speak for themselves, if only I could be well.
  • I’d eat everything right, exercise every day, if only I could be healthy.
  • I’d be the kindest, nicest, most generous person, if only I could recover.
  • Depression

  • This pain is never going to get any better, it’s going to keep getting worse.
  • I’m just going to suffer and suffer until I die, I wish I was dead already.
  • I’m a burden on everybody who loves me, they’d be better off if I wasn’t here.
  • There’s just no point in trying, this disease is bigger than I am.
  • Acceptance

  • There are therapies that I can use to help manage my pain in the absence of cure.
  • I can live with this pain and be sad about it, or I can try to find a healthier mental perspective.
  • I can keep trying to improve my quality of life and learn to feel calm in spite of physical pain.
  • I can share what I’ve learnt and maybe I can help others who are suffering.
  • Sound familiar, anybody?

    The strangest thing about grieving for oneself is that it never seems to be over. These stages can repeat, cyclically and spontaneously. Sometimes I drop back to depression, sometimes to anger or bargaining. Sometimes I drop all the way back to denial and just curl up in a ball yelling “No! No! No! No! NO!”.

    The steps back to acceptance are still pretty much in line with the five stage model.

    I wonder if I will ever be able to maintain acceptance? I believe that it’s possible. I believe that I am capable. I guess what I really wonder is how long it will take…

    When I am feeling the peace of acceptance, the happy memories stay happy. I can see them for what they are and enjoy looking back on the fun times. I can smile at that person that I used to be, wink at her and share with her the secrets of the past.

    Memories might not be the best place for me to spend time when I’m feeling weak, but when I am strong and in the midst of acceptance, they can show me some of the most beautiful parts of my mind. I wouldn’t give them up for anything.

    Have happy memories ever made you sad, Audy? Have you ever grieved for yourself and the person that you once were?

    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 & Flashbacks,
    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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  • 4 thoughts on “When Happy Memories Hurt

    1. Ross

      Great post Caf! I find grief really stops people who are dealing with CRPS dead in their tracks. They have a hard time moving forward because they are so stuck in their grief. Hope your doing really well.

      1. Hayley Cafarella Post author

        Thanks, Ross! I’m struggling a bit physically, but mentally feeling stronger and confident that I can get that to influence the pain side of things. Hope you are feeling well! :) x

    2. Della

      I have certainly been through every stage of grief and back and forth through the list repeatedly. I Think I am mostly in acceptance now… mostly. So many times good memories make me sad. For a while, early on, I had repeated dreams of running, jumping, skipping, and even just striding along in a walk like I used to. I would wake up so distressed to find it was a dream. I have often prayed not to have dreams like that anymore. So often too, I’ve thought I should have been kinder to the old me, and hopefully that makes me kinder to the me of today.

      There is no going back, but that does not mean there is no hope for better! Gentle hugs, dear girl. You’re doing a wonderful job with this challenge!

      1. Hayley Cafarella Post author

        Oh, Della, I’ve had those same dreams! Much more frequently in the first couple of years with CRPS, but always with that distress upon waking and then the subsequent grief because it feels like you’ve just lost everything again. I have also had dreams where the pain was really bad and the limb (mostly when it was still in one ankle) would be sore in the dream as well. I’d usually wake up in a lot of pain from those (probably why they were happening at all) and then found that distressing too because “I can’t even dream without pain!” – LOL! Dreams are just dangerous ;P xx

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