Managing Crippling Pain with Crappy Stick Figures
By Jason Krawczyk
1. If back pain were a person, I would have stabbed him to death years ago. Then in prison I would wake up and go to bed uttering “it was worth it.” It’s remarkable how much of your life involves your back. Not only does it feel like your lower back was replaced with shattered glass when you walk, sit, lay down, look at things, breath, blink too quickly, cough, or exist, but it also occupies the majority of your thoughts. It leaves you as a foggy shell of a human that slightly resembles the pain-free-you.
2. If I knew a microsecond of high school football would radically change the remainder of my life, I would have strictly pursued marching band. About 15 years ago, I tackled someone during practice with the top of my helmet. Pain radiated down my spinal column and all the breath in my lungs rushed from my body. I couldn’t speak at the time, but if I could, I probably would have said something along the lines of “Aghhhhghghhhhghghghhhaga*b(idns#oc8anm!!!”
3. After dozens of trips to doctors and specialists, it turned out I suffered from a compression fracture and two herniated discs. I was pretty ambivalent about football to begin with so when a doctor started their diagnosis with “how do you feel with this being a life time issue?” I was incredibly disheartened. I can’t say my chronic pain would be easier to justify if I had aspirations, or at least a mild interest, for the sport but it’s discouraging nonetheless. It just stung to know my pain was a result of something I was ‘meh’ about.
4. There were periods of relief in-between the agony. It took a few years, but physical therapy, medication, and yoga got me to a fairly stable place. I was finding myself able to be physically active again. As much as I wished there was a procedure to immediately cure my ailments, the credit goes to healthy life changes, discipline, and moral support from friends and family (especially parents). As time went on, the memories of taking ten minutes to roll out of bed slowly dissolved. Life felt like it was suppose to. Then I leisurely went up a flight of stairs and I felt like someone plunged a rusted syringe filled with acid and broken dreams into my back.
5. The cycle of rehabilitation continued. A fleeting moment in a mundane activity left me bed ridden for months. There was no precautionary warning and it came from a movement I do a hundred times a day. I’m in the midst of one right now and all it took my back to flare up was a sheet of ice. I didn’t even fall, I just steadied myself. Being at the mercy of a fickle spine gives you an ever present sense of anxiety.
6. As horrendous as a debilitating injury is, the psychological repercussions are worse. It corrupts your mind and deteriorates your rage coping mechanisms. You’re easily agitated and perspectives become hardwired toward pessimism. Seeing a senior citizen pick up a nickel incites a murderous jealously. Luckily, the pain restricts you from random acts of violence. Then again, the realization that you probably couldn’t hurt a 97 year old is also irritating.
7. As the depression swells and your back pulsates, it’s difficult to maintain a shroud of sanity. Pain is incredibly easy to read on the face. It’s not even micro expressions as eyes sink in, lips quiver, and brows permanently cringe. Trying to smile with a brain soaked in torment makes you look insane.
8. There isn’t a gorgeous enough flower to give or words poetic enough to express my gratitude for my partner in life. She’s been a rock. A pleasant comforting uplifting rock. But there is a sense of harrowing dread attached. How long will she stand by someone that can barely stand? I’m a complete burden to her with nothing to offer. She’s stunning and charismatic and deserves more than a grumpy humbug that takes 39 minutes to put on his pants. There’s a diminishing return on my sex appeal.
9. The hardest thing for me are relationships. With a brain dominated by “ouch,” it’s nigh impossible to maintain focus. It’s exceedingly frustrating to try and articulate thoughts. It takes longer than it should and the words you do spew out are a disjointed mess of a sentence. I come off as an apathetic asshole rather than someone generally interested with what others have to say.
10. You find yourself becoming distant, not just from people, but emotions in general. Knowing every action involves anguish evens the emotional playing field to a dull baseline. Activities that once brought joy have the same impact as stubbing your toe or watching netflix all day. It’s that isolation that sets a looming sense of hopelessness. It’s there where I feel utterly insignificant and where I feel like I am poisoning the lives around me.
11. Keeping a positive outlook is perhaps the most insulting piece of advice. I once had a physical therapist tell me to “thank my pain” for it puts what I cherish into retrospect. I wanted to gouge his eyes before he finished pronouncing the word ‘“pain.” To me, justifying chronic pain as a life affirming experience is fucking delusional. If anything, this lower lumbar pain is a reminder that there is no god.
12. I get it though. Hope. I once had a euphoric moment when I saw a statue of an aztec deity through a store window. It would be nice knowing this wasn’t all meaningless. I could shuck all the responsibility to this goofy looking bird man and say its apart of a greater plan. Then I continued to walk and the pain let me know that wasn’t the goddamn case. I’m the one experiencing it and I decide how I’m going to experience it.
13. You have to realize that a herniated disc won’t go away on it’s own. Rest is important, but white blood cells won’t shift your nucleus pulposus off your spinal nerve. You can. It will take time, healthy eating habits, stretching, and exercise, but it can get better. The issue is the “can” instead of “will.” That’s where your brain comes in. This isn’t just a physical road to walk. Your mental health is your primary target with your physical body as a bonus. Be as pleasant and as understanding as possible to the ones around you. They don’t know what you’re going through, but they’re there and that’s worth more than any painkiller. I’m not retracting my “positive outlook” rant. In fact, use your rage and antagonize your stupid fucking back pain. Beat it to death out of spite and use incremental improvements to your health as your barbed wire wrapped 2-by-4. You’re in it. It sucks, it’s unfair, and it’s depressing. There is no denying that, but you can deny it ruining your life.