For the past two years I've lived with chronic pain. From the moment I wake, every day’s the same. The same relentless agony, the repetitive swallowing of painkillers and the same despair that this could be it for life.
I’m not talking the usual bothersome headache or uncomfortable niggle – that would actually be a relief. I’m talking searing, burning pain. Pain that flares up and is often unbearable. A pain that no one else would understand unless they’d experienced it themselves.
To put it into perspective, on a scale of one to 10 (10 being the worst), most days my pain averages a six. On a bad day it can reach up to a nine and, on occasion, it reaches a 10. Those are the days I can hardly get out of bed, let alone move.
Diagnosed with a back injury, I initially visited numerous chiropractors, physios and doctors in search of a resolution. While subsequent surgery relieved one minor problem, it then caused another. I’m now waiting to see a chronic pain specialist to determine my next steps.
Diagnosed with a back injury, I initially visited numerous chiropractors, physios and doctors in search of a resolution.
But my pain hasn’t only affected me physically, it’s significantly affected my mental health too, not to mention my ability to parent.
As a mum to two active boys, aged four and nine, life is constantly busy. There’s noise, action and lots of demands. Pain has no place in their schedules. The show must go on. Consequently, so must I.
I try to avoid my boys seeing how much pain I’m in, so I battle on. I concertina myself in and out of the car for obligatory school and social commitments, I’m on the sidelines at sport gritting my teeth from standing so long.
I regularly attend the gym because, even if my workouts are considerably moderate, I want to model healthy behaviours. Similarly, I never want to show weakness and so never say ‘’no or ‘help’ when, really, I should.
But, I’m far from alone in my suffering.
According to Pain Australia, around 3.4 million Australians are currently living with chronic pain - that is, a pain that lasts for longer than three months. Statistics show that suicide rates amongst pain sufferers are two to three times higher than the general population. Similarly, anxiety and depression levels are an issue.
According to Pain Australia, around 3.4 million Australians are currently living with chronic pain - that is, a pain that lasts for longer than three months.
On days when the pain is bad, my patience and tolerance are low. I fight back tears and frustration and wish I could just walk away. The boys’ fighting and whining are akin to smashing a hammer into my head. As I hobble past them to fulfil another demand, I feel my temper rise.
Why can’t they see I’m in pain? Why don’t they offer to help?
It rarely takes long before the boil over hits. I scream, shout, sob and collapse. I demonstrate a moment of weakness and turn into the person I don’t want to be. Then the inevitable mum guilt kicks in and I beat myself up more. I’m in a perpetual cycle.
“Our brain and body are connected so our physical health affects our mental health and vice versa,” says Wellbeing psychologist, Marny Lishman. “Pain specifically impacts mental health because the brain turns on pain to get our attention, either because there’s an injury or because of other unresolved (physical or often, psychological) issues.
"When someone’s in pain their stress response is on, so they’re in fight or flight response a lot of the time.”
Lishman notes that ongoing pain is extremely distressing and very stressful. Trying to continue with our daily lives and duties, while in pain, can lead to further fatigue, stress and increased pain.
“Pain can limit all areas of our lives because the brain almost wants you to slow down and heal,” says Lishman. “It means that we start avoiding things and staying in our comfort zones, but this is difficult because people still have to get on with their life.”
Lishman notes that stress relief is crucial in any sort of pain management program, whether it’s through mindfulness, meditation, distraction, exercise or social support.
I’m willing to try anything to overcome my pain or at least manage it in the best ways I can.
I’m willing to try anything to overcome my pain or at least manage it in the best ways I can. In an ideal world, my pain will get resolved and I’ll return to life as I previously knew it. No limitations will be holding me back.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to smile for the sake of my sons. They’re my reason for pushing through. I owe it to them to keep up the fight so I can be the best mum I can be.