To people who suffer chronic pain “The Wall” is just as real as the Great Wall of China and sometimes just as daunting. Those who suffer chronic pain work very hard to live a normal life, they are experts at setting aside their pain, ignoring it, or distracting themselves, in order to get on with their daily lives. The problem with that is sometimes we are just too good at what we do and out of nowhere the pain that you were ignoring at about a four suddenly becomes an eight. What happened? You hit a wall. We call it that because that is exactly what it feels like, one minute you have everything under control and the next you have surpassed the amount of pain you can handle and unwittingly wandered right into a pain storm. At that point everything stops, you are at a pain level that you won’t abate with an hour of rest and some pain meds. Finding your way out of a pain storm can take days, every trick you know, and a lot of meds just to level you out.
It’s called hitting the wall because everything stops. If you are driving, you are pulling over and making calls to get yourself home. If you are working you are going home. If you are having lunch with friends, lunch is over. Additionally all plans made for the next few days are forfeited, it doesn’t matter if you have tickets for a pleasure cruise to Europe or tickets to your favorite band on their last tour ever. None of it matters any more. For you, the world has ceased to rotate outside of your every attempt to calm your pain even the slightest.
Your and anyone supporting you should be focused on calming you and your nerves. If ice calms your pain use it, or heat, lie down, sit up, listen to music, watch TV, read, whatever centers you, use it. Remember that this is not just a struggle of the body, but also the mind. As the body experiences pain mentally we experience stress, accordingly we tighten our muscles, which increases the pain, which tightens the muscles, which increases the stress, which tightens the muscles, and now you aren’t breathing regularly, you are holding your breath, your muscles are tightening, your pain is increasing, you are holding your breath and so on until you break the cycle.
During the pain storm physically your body is completely overwhelmed by pain, you have no ability to experience any other sensation. If a well-meaning significant other were to offer a massage if would be best to turn it down as the only signals your brain is able to recognize is pain. It would only aggravate your situation. Once you are in such a heightened state it is best to reduce the amount of sensation and slowly let your body calm down.
While we are in a pain storm many of us want to scream and yell and cry. Some give in to those urges and other hold back because we don’t want to look like we are complaining, whining, or weak. Even though inside we are inside so much pain any outlet would be some level of relief. Again, sometimes the pride gets in the way, especially if we find ourselves in this position in a public place. We don’t want to be the crazy person dragged out of the mall screaming and crying for no visible reason. Although sometimes it is unavoidable, sometimes the tears just leak out.
I have found myself in the middle of a pain storm twice in movie theaters. Talk about awkward! I had a death grip on the arm rest, trying to get enough of a hold on the pain to get out of the theater without falling or screaming or something equally embarrassing on my way out. I’ve been in a car full of friends, only two of which even knew about my chronic pain. I found myself in one walking down a sidewalk, I have absolutely no memory of how I got myself home, but somehow, I managed without anyone calling an ambulance, which is one of my major fears. What I have figured out works in really awkward and (to me) terrifying situations like those is referred pain. A good solid pinch, or stub the toe, or punch a wall, whatever is available or preferable not with the intent to do damage, but to get the brain to focus on pain somewhere else is actually a relief, albeit a brief one. Still any amount of relief counts in a situation like that. Trust me.
While this will happen to anyone who suffers from chronic pain and it is important to know how to deal with it. It is much more important to know how to avoid it. To pay enough attention to your body and take your meds before you hit your wall, not after. The trick is maintenance, not after care, but that is a whole different post.
What about you? What you do you find helps you come back to the world after you hit your wall? What places have you been when it happened? How did you handle it?