Part I of II – By guestwriter Cammie LaValle
Remember that light inside of you that used to shine? We reminisce about it in our heads; to that person we used to be. That silent yet screaming conversation in our minds we have on a daily basis. For some, it’s the majority of the actual conversing we do and sadly, it’s only with ourselves. We are feeling ourselves; our internal light; the fire that once helped us accomplish so many things in life, be reduced to less than a flame; more like a sad, almost non-existent spark which could barely keep a match lit.
Sure, there are flickers of hope and tiny little fires at times; but personally, they are getting few and far between. I have not given up all hope, but I am struggling to keep the grasp.
One of my motto’s is “Let Your Soul Shine” taken from a song. How hypocritical of me to tell others to do just that when I am watching, feeling and experiencing my own go darker and darker every day. I don’t mean dark as in evil, although I will admit I’ve had some pretty evil scenarios which I wish would play out in the lives of some of the doctors I have encountered in the last few years. No, I would not harm anyone; but as you read that, I am certain you can recall one of those thoughts that has played out in your mind so detailed as though you were actually plotting a dismemberment. I for one thought a log-splitter would suffice.
As I am writing this, I have backspaced hundreds of times thinking what I have to say or what I feel is not ready to be heard or will be perceived as seeking pity, over reacting, not being thankful for what I do have or God forbid, the “It could be worse” reaction we often get. Yes, we all comprehend that, but more often than not, it is far from a supportive statement as we perceive it. Minimizing our hell is what most of us feel; even though we know most of you mean well when it’s said. But I realized the words I put down, if were written by someone else and read by me, are exactly the words I would need to hear; and yearn to hear. So without a hesitant mind, and the pain jolting through my body and hands, I shall spill the complete ugly truth that I am not shining by any means. I’ve gone dim. This is not news to some; as they know me too well to believe the crap that spews out of my mouth when I say “I’m fine.”
I ask myself daily, how much more can I handle? Do I even want to for that matter? Yes, those thoughts are there when in my dimmest hours. Will I say it out loud? Probably not. Will I say it here, when I know others just like me are reading this; yes, yes I will. I can’t say I am proud of my thoughts, but I can say I am not about to blow sunshine up anyone’s ass; especially knowing the people reading this are struggling right along with me. That’s not what we need and I may very well do it to others so they don’t have to worry about me, but I will not do it to you. I know that sounds terrible as I have more than likely never met or ever will meet 99.999 % of you. Why be truthful to people I don’t know and hide and lie to my own family and friends? I have no clue the rationale behind this and won’t pretend I do either. What I do know is that there is a greater chance those reading this, understand it to their core and need no explanation of the words, the thoughts, the expressions, the pain, the isolation, the self-doubt, and the meaning behind “Going Dim”. I fully understand all humans go through struggles in life and I am not discounting any of that; anyone or any struggle of any kind. I am addressing our struggle.
I am opening up my broken spirit and soul, my tired mind, and using my pain riddled body, to let YOU know, you are far from alone in this battle. And I may be writing what you can’t dare to say out loud, but feel it as if it has taken over your entire being. I know I have read some stories which after the first sentence I felt the lump in my throat. I certainly am not sharing to cause distress or any tears, but if anyone reading this has that lump, let yourself feel the emotion and release some of that internal pain that is eating you alive and has taken over a portion of your soul.
More than likely you have caught on that I have not begun to describe the pain. If you are reading this, you already know how it will read. However, for those friends or family that are reading this who have a loved one suffering, I will follow this with a brutal truth that the one you know, who is suffering, is too damn scared to tell you. Whether it be pride, or wanting the world to believe we can handle this, or the complete farce we muster up in order to appear stronger than we actually feel. Your loved one has gone dim. And you might have as well; attempting to care for them. Addressing the other side of this is just as important as addressing ourselves.
The ME I once was, is still seen by my husband and some family and friends; however, I don’t see her. I feel as if she’s gone for good. I talk with her in my mind and actually pray she will come back, somehow, some way. She could light up a room (from what I was told). She was vibrant, funny, witty, intelligent, strong, hard-working, worthy, helpful, selfless, and although some deep down pain existed as we all have and hide; she was happy. She helped raise 2 children, who she loves. She was a good wife, a good friend, a reliable sister and had worked since a very young age; worked her ass off. Now, the relentless quest for her to return has come up empty. She was me. I was her. We’ve both gone dim.
Where did she go? CRPS (full body), Fibromyalgia in addition about a dozen other health issues; some quite severe, has held her captive and the ransom demand at this time cannot be met. The hope and flicker of light is diminishing. Sure, I say I am hopeful and staying positive, but who am I kidding? It’s gradually becoming such a farce, I can barely hold back the tears when I say I am still positive. It’s a blatant lie. I feel as if I am getting a very real glimpse of Hell.
Ice pick, razor blade, vice, hammer, pins, needles, knife, match, truck, salt, gasoline, fire, electric shock and flames; all of which I feel has been used during this captivity. A scene from a mysterious attempted murder movie in which we wait in the trunk to be rescued. Someone on the outside may not comprehend that comparison, but I, along with so many others; truly feel this. And the trunk is our lives at times. That dim, cold, dark, isolated place, we don’t willingly go to, but find ourselves there, stuck; more often than not. The tools used is what we compare our pain to; as CRPS/RSD plays out such a brutal attack on our bodies daily. As we wait for the ransom, which in our lives is a doctor, a treatment, a cure, we succumb to this attack and 24/7 try to prepare ourselves for the next dreadful blow. I try to hold it in as to not be a burden; not wanting people to see how bad it is. There are times it just comes out, screaming, howling, paralyzing pain to the point I can barely breathe. Arms, legs, feet, back, hips, face, ears, chest pain where it feels like I am having a heart attack, but I know I am not. Then I think, what if I do have a heart attack? If I feel like that daily, if I have one, will I even know? And my hypertension gets so out of control, my neck feels like I am being stabbed, my vision gets blurry, I lose minutes and have lost recollection of hours of time. I get scared to be alone in my own home. This scares the sh*t out of me! On nights the blood pressure is too high and the chest pain is severe, I am too damn scared to go to sleep as I honestly wonder if I will wake up. Yes, that is how my mind works. I pray I wake up. I won’t go into the thoughts and prayers that go on, when I honestly question if my life, as I know it, is actually ending that evening. This is brutally honest and I know it sounds far-fetched to some. But, many reading this feel the same way or have felt the same way. I am saying it now, to give you some peace of mind that you are far from alone. It is not by any means a healthy way of thinking, but it is where one’s mind tends to go at times. I am not proud of these thoughts, but they are true.
Pain changes people. It’s relentless. The beast wins in those moments and all I can do is wait for it to let go of its ever so tight grip of my body. I think to myself during these times, how the hell am I to live this way? How is my husband to live this way, with his wife being consumed by pain, lost herself and her feeling of self-worth? I am not the woman he married. Far, far from it. He is my biggest advocate and has not left my side, although I wouldn’t blame him. His wife is gone. The anxiety, stress and depression that goes along with this beast leads my mind to wonder “when” he will have had enough; not “if”. For better or worse, sickness and in health, meant something to him, just as it did and does to me. How lucky am I to have such a man who took his vows so serious, that as he watches his wife diminish and change into someone he didn’t marry, he continues to assure me we are in this together and he will never leave my side. He is the only one who can make these demons stop in my head. He is the only one who has seen it all and still has faith I will come out of it; come back as the woman he married; come back from “Going Dim”.
What has brought you to this page, is why many of you will understand what I am about to say next. You are dim yourself from disease and pain or you are caring for someone and are desperately trying to find a way to understand and help that person; your loved one. (For those seeking help to care for another – THANK YOU! Sadly enough, you may be the only one doing so for that lost screaming soul).
Too many are left alone and instead of having support in waiting for that ransom, they remain in the trunk; dim, isolated, begging for relief, kicking and screaming to get out; get help and for someone to actually listen. When there is never a response, those broken souls take it upon themselves to put an end to their private mysterious movie which is their life. They don’t think they can handle the next blow, they have been disregarded by doctors, family, friends and in their mind; the world.
Pain messes with your mind. Even those who truly have support; at times feel like an overwhelming burden to everyone, isolated and alone (even if the room is filled with 20 people) and misunderstood, they would rather not be on this earth for one more second of pain or one more feeling of being dismissed by a friend or loved one. That emotional pain alone when one’s suffering is dismissed; as if we are over-reacting to a common cold; could and has triggered people in pain to start planning their demise, as it is too much for them in their broken mind and body to fight anymore. Death, in their mind, however wrong one deems that thought process; is what they are contemplating. If you think this is reaching; just read through posts in some of your or your loved one’s support groups.
Daily, I see people tell people they never met, that they “can’t handle it anymore”, “I just want to end it”. Keep in mind, if you look at their FB page, or Twitter, or recall a recent phone call, most would have just said or posted on how great their day was. “I am fine.” It’s a farce, which most of us continue to do; as to not upset our family or friends with our true feelings and pain, or to not be honest with people we actually know because we’ve been dismissed too many times and are broken to the point that some knowingly make a decision to NEVER again speak to a loved one, hug a family member; and even their own children; as their mind has told them it’s easier to die than live.
How sad is that? Are they selfish? When people take their lives due to pain, any type of pain; they cannot comprehend the ramifications other than they no longer will have pain. So completely torn down, the thought their child will lose their parent, is not strong enough to stop them. How in the hell is our society missing this? How are family and friends missing this? How are people in pain getting to this point? Whether it be lack of treatment, lack of cure, lack of support or the mind games played out in your head when your pain takes over your life; it must, meaning right now, start being addressed.
Are you thinking your life is not worth it anymore? Well, it is. You don’t see it, but others do. And I beg anyone reading this, to reach out to someone. I can almost guarantee these thoughts have gradually entered the minds of your loved one who experiences 24/7 pain; not remembering a day without it. And if someone asks you, be honest. I have uttered the words I’m fine for the majority of my life; over half of which has been in chronic pain. I hid so many things from even my family; out of pride and factors which stem from my childhood, some of my own family do not believe I am in such a state of despair and pain; broken down with a tired soul and body that feels useless. I hid for too long. Yes, it’s my fault for putting on the mask. I was and at times still very good at it. A habit very hard to break.
It’s natural for me to pretend I am okay; for I’ve done it all my life in one way or another just like most of humanity in some aspect. However, I am removing it now and so should you. This does not give us the right to become an un-consolable hot mess of a person; but it does give us power to deal with what is behind the mask; our true selves. It certainly will not be easy, but how worn out are you right now reading this? My soul is tired and there is no amount of sleep in which can awaken it.
“Live without living?” What does that mean? If you ask that question, you have yet to comprehend how our minds work; how we feel & what this has done to us. Or better said, what it has done with the person we once were. The reason I; we’ve gone dim. We strive to live better and we do anything and everything to get there. Find relief, find a new normal, find peace, find understanding, find faith, find God, find a way; find ourselves. I am trying and I have resorted to begging at times just to get a doctor to listen to me. Most ignore it; but I’ve been lucky to find one that listened; one who upheld his oath. One who has promised to help me find a way, a new normal, and a treatment in which I can maybe, just maybe, have a chance at finding myself again. I don’t trust many, but trusted him and have for over 10 years. Due to this trust and mutual respect between a doctor and a patient, I have a chance; a slight flicker of light in my dim world which I am grasping onto so tight, if I were to let go I feel as if I would crumble; again.
You see, although I’ve gone dim like many of you reading this, I also found HOPE and it was due to raising some hell and advocating for myself and not shutting up when I was told NO. I kept going, I kept calling, I kept writing; I kept fighting. I am still dim, but I have seen the flicker of light; that same light which could let “My Soul Shine”. I don’t know if it will, but I’ll be damned if I’m not going to try. I deserve it; as do you.
I started writing this 8 months ago. When I started, I was in my darkest times. I thought about deleting those parts; but that would be me lying to you, and again, as life has taught me, continue to pretend I am okay when I am not. So I hope when you started reading, you felt you were no longer alone in the pain, the dark thoughts, the hopelessness, sadness and you knew, in your heart and soul, there are others like you. And as you read on, you found understanding, a bond with someone you probably will never meet. A bond due to pain, no one wants, but one everyone needs so they don’t feel alone and don’t ever think tomorrow is not worth waking up to.
I’m honored to share this project by chronic illness activist, guest writer Cammie LaValle, featured for CRPS/RSD Awareness Month. She’s not only a personal friend I met in the chronic pain community, but she’s a personal inspiration to me as well as so many others. She leads the charge in fighting campaigns for chronic pain and rare disease causes with the tenacity like none I’ve seen before, whilst attacking her disease with the same vigor. I’m proud to be in the same warrior club with a woman like Cammie, as I have learned much from her. Read more RSD/CRPS articles, see art projects, poems, and survival stories here.
Thank you for visiting and sharing -Mary
Think of the nervous system like a boombox up on your shoulder, 80’s style, playing sweet jams at all times. When the body is healthy, balanced, and running smoothly, the music playing from your system’s radio station are your favorite hits at the perfect volume, and your drop-in harmonies are totally on point.
When the nervous system is out of sync, those beats flowing from your station are tragic- like the song you hate most, on the loudest setting, playing over and over again. You can’t change the station, no matter what lengths you go to!
When you have a chronic neurological condition like Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, or Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome for example, it’s as though someone traded out your cool retro stereo system for an old broken down radio. You can play records on it sometimes, and it’s AMAZING to listen to any music again when you’re not in a flare or a relapse, but even then, all the records have scratches on them, so the music is constantly skipping and warped. The stereo’s wiring gets so bad over time that the record player doesn’t work anymore, and your radio only receives static.
A chronically malfunctioning nervous system is like listening to a broken radio stuck on static at full volume constantly.
When the “music” or the nervous system’s wiring is flowing properly from the brain throughout the body, pain receptors react to appropriate painful stimuli, telling us when there is a problem, and the pain subsides when the problem is resolved. When we have “faulty wiring” we may experience hypersensitivity to touch, sound, light or even smells so intense that it can cause a severely painful reaction. Think of raw wires on the end of electronics sparking and flaming just to the slightest touch.
The malfunctioning nervous system might react to normal stimulus with severe increased pain, increased stress may cause a seizure, or in others severe tremors and body spasms may occur. For some with POTS, (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome), a loud noise or changing positions can cause the body to completely check out, going into fight or flight mode, and beginning to pass out, or passing out completely.
Going back to the stereo analogy, imagine being invited to a party where the DJ had a broken stereo system, playing static on blast or his stereo catching fire in front of everyone. That’s exactly what it’s like to live with a chronic neurological disease…well, sort of.
Meditation, spirituality, organized religion, trying to improve sleep, and other stress reducing efforts are ways we try to turn down the knob on the stereo. Medications, alternative therapies, eating well, surrounding ourselves with positive support are all ways we can continue turning the knob down little by little. The static kicks out on full blast each day, and we use our tools to adjust or manage the incoming noise levels. We may not have the ability to turn the station away from the blaring static and back to music, but we can attempt to turn the volume down so it isn’t blasting constantly every day.
Invasive and surgical approaches to treating neurological diseases are like kicking the side of your stereo to try to get it to work again. Jolting it hard enough may coax the system to finally play music once again, or you might kick it so hard that you completely break your stereo. For many, surgery and invasive treatments are worth a risk of causing additional problems for the possibility of returning to good health and functioning.
That’s my super-scientific explanation of the nervous system, and how it’s exactly like a boom box. So…. this analogy might not end up in a medical school text book, but if it helped anyone better understand an aspect of neurological disease, or put a smile on your face, then virtual high fives all around!
There are many things you can forgive your body for, but there are moments, relationships, days in life you miss which you will never get back, unforgettable, unforgivable events you are denied in the face of disability. My body is broken, and she continues to break my heart.
This is how those of us with chronic diseases struggle so deeply to have “self love.” Trapped inside bodies that attack us, and hearts which shoulder the guilt of our loved one’s pain from the hurt our illnesses have caused- child, love thyself. Love your abuser. Forgive the one which harms those you love the most. Forgive, forgive, forgive….
Body, you have taken my choices from me all of my adult life. Body, you are the abusive relationship I have never been able to flee. Body, you have stolen my health, my career, fun, freedom… my dreams. No permission was granted to you, yet you take all you touch. You are a jealous, volatile disease, and you only care about your own needs. I have suffered abuse and trauma at the hands of doctors on your account, though, you still batter me without compassion. I’ve been abandoned and made to feel worthless, INVISIBLE because of you body; I’ve had enough of your games!
Body, I break up with you. Sorry, not sorry.
I tear you from my being and leave you. I will still care for you, because I am obligated. I am bound to you in ways I cannot choose, but I will not love you. I will not call you my own. We are committed to one another, but I turn my back to you, body. You from here on out, you will be “Body” and I will go forward being me. This is my self love. This is my self compassion. This is my choice.
I rage against your victimization. Your assault on my essence is over. I choose to make my life despite you, in spite of you. I choose, I choose, I choose. My flesh and bone surrenders, but my spirit rises up! Your reign, your emotional and psychological torture is over. Call it dissociation, call it compartmentalizing call it what you will- it IS a detachment, and it is necessary.
I sign the papers and I box up your things. You can live in the basement and I will now and forevermore preside upstairs, in charge of THIS HOUSE.
X A Body of Hope
Please support Rare Disease Day on February 29th. www.rarediseaseday.us
On the morning of November 6th, in a suburb just north of Atlanta, GA, the students and teachers of Woodstock Elementary School arrived wearing orange in support of individuals living with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome/RSD. “It was a sea of orange today,” said Principal Kim Montalbano, who organized the awareness event.
Each November for CRPS/RSD Awareness month, people around the world participate in Color the World Orange, and this year, for the first time, the students and faculty of Woodstock Elementary School joined the cause!
My mother, a long-time teacher at W.E.S. was overwhelmed by the support shown to people living with severe daily pain and families affected by the debilitating neurological disorder, RSD/CRPS. When she arrived to work that morning, my mother was excited that the children in her own classroom would be sporting orange; instead however, she saw orange everywhere she looked! “It was a very emotional moment when I realized the entire school was supporting you today,” she told me that evening with tears in her eyes.
Many of my mother’s colleagues know that I have grown more disabled over the years, however she was encouraged to share my story in more detail on the 6th along with information on the condition that started it all:
I sprained my ankle when I was a healthy, active and focused 22-year-old; Complex Regional Pain Syndrome/RSD began immediately following the injury. The constant pain has spread to other parts of my body over the last 11 years and I now have several other disabling chronic illnesses. They say that RSD/CRPS is the most painful condition- more painful than childbirth or amputation, but people like myself don’t get a break from the pain. I have traveled to see specialists, I have stayed in hospitals like Emory and Mayo among others, I have utilized western medicine, alternative, and holistic type treatments and therapies. Because of the enhanced awareness in recent years, new treatments for RSD/CRPS are being developed so there is always hope for remission! Anyone can contract RSD/CRPS from a minor injury, but research shows taking vitamin C after sprain, fracture or surgery will reduce your chances by helping your nerves heal. It is an extremely difficult condition to manage, but a loving family, faith, online support groups, and doctors who truly care make a world of difference for people like myself.
A few of my mother’s co-workers shared that they struggle with their own chronic pain conditions and felt that no one understood what they lived with on a daily basis. A mother of one of the students wrote a note to my mom saying that she has had CRPS/RSD for years and has always felt very alone in her pain. She was so overwhelmed with the support of the entire school and was extremely grateful it was being recognized so near her home. She thanked my mother specifically for educating her child’s class on RSD and extended a special thank you to Principal Montalbano for organizing such a meaningful awareness event.
Several of the students tried to understand why wearing orange would make a difference. Some were disturbed by the idea of living every day in pain. One student asked my mother, “Can’t your daughter just take medicine to feel better?” Another asked his teacher how his orange t-shirt would help people in pain recover. His teacher explained that it wouldn’t, but for people like my mother and myself, his support would be “a very big deal.” He then felt compelled to run down to my mother’s classroom to show her his orange shirt, and to say, “I hope your daughter feels better soon.”
Because of this incredible awareness event at W.E.S., classes upon classes of children know what RSD is. Their parents, who read the memo and found them something orange to wear that day, are now familiar with the term “RSD”. Faculty who helped explain the illness all day will recognize it whenever they hear the term again. The next time a person they care for is diagnosed, it won’t seem like the most foreign illness on the planet and they will know treatment must be sought out immediately.
When I shared pictures of the children wearing orange to my Facebook timeline, my friends were so touched and inspired by this amazing gift of support. We all feel incredibly uplifted and deeply moved by the entire school of Woodstock Elementary. On behalf of myself, my family, and my extended family of survivors living with indescribable pain, thank you W.E.S. for your support, your kindness, and for raising awareness for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome/RSD.
The 15th of October, a very beloved, beautiful soul and long-time health activist, Mary LaBree passed away due to complications from RSD/CRPS. Here, one of her best friends, Mary Jane Gonzales shares a heartfelt poem with us along with the late Mary LaBree’s story. This was originally posted on the RSD/CRPS awareness Facebook page: In the Blink of an Eye.
By Poet/Author, Mary Jane Gonzales:
“With this being RSD/CRPS Awareness Month, I’d like to begin the month by acknowledging the work of Mary LaBree who is no longer with us. Mary shared a small part of her story with us in September for Chronic Pain Awareness, but was reserving the bulk of her story for an impending book. For those of you who missed her post back in September, you can read it below. Though it offers just a glimpse at her story, I would like to highlight some of her accomplishments that I know of. Her and her daughter’s RSD Support Group was the second support group in the country, and the first to get a state proclamation (back in 1990). She founded the New England RSD Coalition, whose function was to serve and educate: through support, seminars and fund raising. She held teaching seminars with well known doctors; collaborating with them over many years. She was a strong advocate for RSD awareness, and a key figure in the RSD community. Even recently, she was asked to speak at a conference, but had to decline for health reasons.
Before I repeat her post from September, I’d like to share a poem I wrote for her a few months ago for her intended book.
A HELPER AND ADVOCATE
A soldier, a warrior,
A patient with tears,
A helper and advocate
For so many years.
Reaching and touching
All that she could,
To help them endure
What no one should.
Searching for answers,
Seeking a cure,
For her and her family,
And all who suffer
This dreaded disease
Her reason for working
Poem Copyright Mary Jane Gonzales“
My Chronic Pain Story
by Mary LaBree
“I became aware of RSD in the mid 80’s when I went with my daughter to the pain clinic where she had been diagnosed with RSD. Then, about a year or so later, when I got hurt and fractured my spine, my daughter said she thought I had RSD also. So she took me to the same clinic, to see her doctor, and I, too, was diagnosed with RSD.
After that, I went into treatment and it took four years for me to get better. Along with Post Galvanic Stimulation, which helped me a lot, some other treatments I’ve had include:
Alphalipoic Acid (IV)
Radio Frequency Ablation
Though all the treatments have helped, none have been long lasting. As you all know, RSD (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy), now known as CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome) has periods of worsening, be it flares or spreads. I was fifty years old when I got RSD. I am now seventy eight. In those twenty eight years with RSD/CRPS, I have alternated between walking unassisted, walking with a walker, and using a powerchair.
In the late 1980’s, my daughter and I started “RSD Support Group”. We were the 2nd support group in the country, and the 1st to get a state proclamation (back in 1990). It was the Massachusetts State Proclamation and we’ve gotten one every year since. We chose the color red and the month of July because July is considered the Freedom Month.
Later, my daughter moved out of state and she passed the support group onto me alone. In 1997, a colleague who came up for the July “Proclamation Awards Ceremony” approached me to form an organization, which was named the New England RSD Coalition. For all these years, the function of the coalition has been to serve and educate; through support, seminars and fund raising.
I have learned much over the years with Chronic Illness. I have learned to research all that I can about this disease which has affected eight people in my family…which was devastating and heart wrenching. I have learned to advocate for both awareness and patients. I have learned things that I can do to help myself beyond medical treatments, such as:
sitting in the sun
a positive spirit
Helping and doing for others is my “secret” for living with RSD, or just plain living!”
Mary LaBree left a lasting imprint on the chronic pain and RSD/CRPS community. She is one of the first chronic pain health activists. Without her dedication in clearing a path, so many of us would still be suffering in the dark. Mary LaBree’s commitment to her cause shows that life does not end with chronic illness; she made her battle her life’s work. Thank you, Mary LaBree.
**Also read In Memory of Mary LaBree- An Original RSD Advocate from RSDAdvisory, a personal account of a long and loving friendship with Mary.
Since Mary’s passing on October 15th, very sadly, more RSD/CRPS angels have been lost. We honor them all by raising awareness about the seriousness of this disease. Our hearts and prayers go out to their friends and families.
For a non-fatal disease, far too many don’t survive.
I never thought a car wreck that did damage to my elbow
would stop me from walking an entire year later. I never thought you could get a disease from a car wreck.
I never thought I would have to depend on anyone else
to get me through tough times in my life.
I never thought I would face an uncertain future
without the ability to answer the tough questions.
I am by nature a very opinionated, strong minded, determined and focused individual. Having my life turned upside down by an unforeseen event is not in anyone’s plans of course, but, the thought of it was always something I thought I knew exactly how I’d handle as a ‘strong and independent woman’. Little did I know that my ultimate undoing would also be the one thing that allowed me to become more whole as a person.
Looking back on last year’s thoughts on how this disease impacted my life over the first year of learning to deal with it, I was already at a place of seeing the blessings that came with the pain and the horror. I make it a priority to find good in all things or at least as many as possible. I don’t believe things are one way or another in life. I believe that things are the way we interpret them to be. Our perception and reactions to life determine what we take from each instance and whether or not we count it a blessing or a curse or in this case admit it is equal parts of each.
There are still times where I try to convince myself that this is all a bad mistake and that I’m really ok (when I feel good it’s easier to lie to myself) and the pain was just a figment of my imagination trumped up by my brain somehow. I still have those moments or days of denial where I really do want to refuse to believe that I will have to deal with this for the rest of my life. There are also days where I think I have it under control and manageable and that I can handle it. I fool myself into thinking that I am the one in control, not the disease.
I am learning that there is more to it than drawing hard lines, coming up with definitive answers or even being able to list symptoms. Everything is so fluid and ever changing with CRPS. Life equilibrium. Balance has never been so important and never meant so much to me as it does now. I’m learning to live in a state of seeking my own level the same way that water does. When my pain levels are up, my activity levels go down and vice versa. When I am frustrated with my limitations, I find ways to realize the gains that they have brought me in my emotional life. My physical life has forced my emotional life to do some very large sacrificing….and what I thought was me becoming weaker is turning out to be me learning to become stronger.
You see….. when life begins to strip you down to your core and bend and stretch you to your breaking point, you have to adjust and adapt and learn new methods. There is more to it than that though. You can get caught in the label, in the diagnosis, in the symptoms, in the daily rigor of the battle and forget that you have a life to live beyond the disease. You can forget to choose to take in the beauty around you, to find new strengths, new outlets, new hobbies, new friends, new resources, new paths to use your talents on. It is so easy to get stuck in the mud of the issues that come with CRPS/RSD….but we who have this disease have to learn to rise above and be water and flow and seek our own level. We have to learn to live differently. Life may never look the same, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be beautiful, or full of adventures. It just means we have to change our definitions and more than that we have to push ourselves to make new expectations, focus our perceptions and define our interpretations in a way that helps us grow and find positive experiences in the struggles that we face. If we don’t adapt we become stuck in that mud and the weight makes us feel like there is too much work involved in moving forward we become depressed and despondent because our expectations are still tied to our old life and our old abilities. I’m learning now to flow, to adapt, to change my focus away from what life was, what I used to think, expect, want, etc so that I can still have dreams, still have goals, still accomplish things. Now I do so as part of a team, with the help of friends, family and loved ones. The disease brings its own challenges, but if we accept our lives are not determined by external circumstances, but rather by our mental approach, we can and we will triumph despite the challenges, no matter what they are. Rise to the top, find balance, seek your own level and don’t stay stuck in the mud. Make the choice to look for a new perspective.
I never look forward to the pains I know the next year might bring, but I do actually anticipate with high hopes the new horizons and the new vantage points that come on the other side of the valleys. I plan to enjoy my journey no matter what, for as long as possible!!!
I am so honored to have Rikki as a guest writer for us 2 years running! I have revisited her post from last year “Broken Things can be Fixed” several times throughout this past year and it still chokes me up. She has so much wisdom, insight and vigor, it is easy to forget she is in her second year of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. Thank you to Rikki for lending us your voice today and allowing us to share your end-of-year reflections on your ever-inspiring journey. Rikki has many hobbies including traveling with her family, uplifting others around her, and she has a passion for Celtic Mythology. Check out her fascinating Facebook page: Celtic Lore and Mythology.
To see more RSD/CRPS articles, artwork, and poetry, visit the Categories menu for “RSD/CRPS” or click here.
November is buzzing with creativity among writers, bloggers, and in social media sharing as well; I want to take a beat to discuss a few of the exciting projects I know to be converging this month.
“NaNoWriMo” or National Novel Writing Month just kicked off! Writers have been preparing, and now the task is at hand to compile a 50,000 page book in 30 days! Can you imagine the focus, commitment and creativity that requires? For anyone who is in the midst of writing a novel this month, I wish you the very best experience! If you are participating in NaNoWriMo or have done it in years past, please comment and let us know what it was like for you.
In the blogosphere, November is known as NaBloPoMo. Every day of the month, many bloggers will update their blogs daily instead of weekly or even monthly. Keeping up daily interesting content with images, links, and maintaining visitor interaction is quite a challenge! Please support your favorite blogs during the month of November.
Gratitude writing challenges are popular with writers as well as on social media to celebrate Thanksgiving #NaNoPoblano. Whether it’s November or any day of the year, I think any project that encourages one to practice thankfulness is positive. Do you believe gratitude challenges create more overall gratitude year ‘round? Are you participating in a grateful challenge this month?
In my social networking community and blogroll, November is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome/RSD Awareness Month. Many of my Chronic Pain friends are taking part in daily photo challenges, sharing daily facts and writing about their personal journeys with CRPS. Today, November 2nd is Color the World Orange day where we are wearing orange in support of the estimated 5 million suffering in debilitating daily pain.
I am inviting anyone with CRPS/RSD to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share an aspect of your personal story. All of the CRPS stories shared during this month will be linked under the category RSD/CRPS in my categories dropdown section. Even though I am raising awareness for one illness in particular this month, I hope you will find the overall messages will be encouraging and inspiring.
There are other important events in November like: Cancer Awareness Month (MoVember), Epilepsy Awareness, Alzheimer’s Awareness, and National Caregiver’s Awareness Month; November 13th is Caregiver Appreciation Day.
Whether you are a writer, a patient advocate, showing your gratitude this month, or trying to educate others on something you care about, I wish you: Passion, Growth, Gratitude, and Perseverance.
If you are participating in a writing challenge or an artistic group project this month that I did not mention, please do share in the comments section!
She hasn’t slept for days. The pain in her leg reminds her of ten million tiny coal miners chipping away at her bone marrow with their axes, sledge hammers and sharp picks. “When do these little guys ever take a lunch?” she wonders. They set off fire bombs from the inside of her, destroying chunks of tissue, muscle, and shards of bone. They light the fuses and her nerves shoot like electricity from one end of her leg to the next, making her gasp for air. Now, her entire leg IS pain. It is no longer a leg. It is no longer HER leg. It belongs to a monster. To a disease she does not yet understand.
The limb is only pain and fire and crushing, sawing icicle bone. When she closes her eyes, she cannot picture what the leg looks like. She can only see purple and ice blue with white. Like a force-field that radiates around the limb, the colors have replaced flesh.
She waits for the sun to rise for her doctor appointment. All night, she recalled her symptoms again and again. She can’t leave anything out this time. He has to understand- I have to make him realize what is happening to me. I cannot live like this. I won’t. I can’t do it. He has to help me. I will make him understand.
Five hours later, back in her bed, she is barely conscious now. Sleep still will not come, but her mind is groggy from pain. Her heart races, body shakes, face tingles and room spins; all that she registers is pain. She feels herself floating away. All but for the leg. It holds her captive. She can’t keep her eyes open. Slow tears stream down her face. Flashes of the past few appointments cut through the fog.
Orthopedic: “I’m sorry to tell you, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome is the most painful condition I’ve ever seen. You are so young…”
Physical Therapist: “You have to let me touch you. Stop exaggerating so much. You have to try…Stop crying!”
Neurologist: “I know the spinal injections are painful, but there aren’t many other options.”
General Practitioner: “Pain medication is just really hard to prescribe these days. How about some more extra strength prescription Advil?”
Two nights later, she is in the emergency room screaming and writhing around in agony. Her fiancé rushed her there when he saw her blackened leg, 3x the size of the other, and his beautiful, 20-year-old love rolling around in her bed, moaning, barely able to form words. Even in her state, the doctors and nurses look at her with suspicion. “She has CRPS,” says the fiancé with an obviousness in his voice, assuming they will then finally understand. No, CRPS is a condition the doctors and nurses do not recognize. Her swollen, blackened limb with sores developing around the foot do not remove the look of doubt from the physician’s face. “She can see her doctor for pain medication,” he says, never looking at the girl’s face.
From across the Emergency Room, a nurse rushes over and pulls the doctor aside. After their private discussion, that angel nurse is lead on the team and the shrieking girl gets pain medication immediately. “Don’t stick her with any needles and keep away from this girl’s leg, everyone!” directs the angel nurse. She tapes a sign to the bed saying “NO STICKS. DON’T TOUCH LEGS.” After the girl had relaxed some, the doctor sends her home with a prescription for pain medication and anti-inflammatories.
She finally had some hope. The medication wasn’t helping the pain very much, but she did get a few hours of sleep, finally. She felt more like herself than she had all week. Knowing there was a medical professional out there who knew about her condition and cared enough to try to help her…was like a window just opened and she could breathe again. Maybe in time she would find a doctor like that nurse. Maybe if someone could help her…maybe she could try to do this.
Then, her mom stormed into her room. “Your father and I have decided we want you out by tomorrow.” Wait…what? What’s going on, mom? “We know you have been going around trying to get drugs from doctors. After your little trip to the emergency room last night, we know you got a big bottle of pills and we want you out. We won’t have an addict living in our home.”
This is inspired by a true story, but “The Girl” is un-named because her story is shared by too many who face this disease Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (RSD) and other types of severe chronic pain conditions. Chronic Pain does not make you an addict. Taking prescribed medications that allow you to function and survive is not the same as addiction. If you love someone with CRPS/RSD or a severe chronic pain disorder, please do some research on their behalf and understand that the media does not portray pain medication appropriately, from the perspective of chronic, terminal illness sufferers or from doctors who manage chronic pain disorders.
For more information, read Pain Pills: Chronic Pain Sufferers Speak
I Think About The Time When My
Days Were Mine to Call,
I Didn’t Have To Think About
Meds or Charging At ALL!!!
I Used To LOVE Hugs And being Touched
You See- I Grew Up That Way-
But NOW When People Come Near Me
I Want To Shy Away
I Used To Be The Life Of The Party
Never Sitting Still For A Moment
NOW I’m A Stranger Even In My Own Body
And I Can’t Even Remember How I Got In It!
Of Course I Am Happy To Be Alive
I Still Have So Much To Give
I Just Want A Life That Doesn’t Hurt So Much
Just To Wake Up And Live
-written by Kelly Lynn Edholm
Guest Contributor, Kelly Lynn has been surviving Complex Regional Pain Syndrome/RSD since 2007 along with other health challenges. She is a mother, a grandmother, an artist, teacher to the disabled, and places her faith in God first in her life. The “charging” she is referring to is her Spinal Cord Implant which is meant to help reduce pain. Thank you so much Kelly for expressing so clearly what many of us feel.
This is the last of the Nervember Series. Visit Categories to see all of the RSD/CRPS Awareness posts from this past month.
This poem expresses the writer’s longing to help others in the midst of ongoing pain- that IS a gift! This piece really touches my heart.
This is a BRAND NEW blog. I hope you will check out some of her posts.
I asked myself what could I possibly give?
In a life that had become so difficult to live
For often my body is so wracked with pain
And the slightest movement is constant strain
With limbs on fire, but cold as ice
There was nothing about RSD even close to nice
Pain much worse than giving birth to a child
Yet strong enough to drive a weaker soul wild
Wondering how to make a difference in this life?
In a world of poverty, war, and strife
It seemed an angel whispered in my ear
The words spoken were tender and clear
You have been given a very special gift
Not a finger will you ever have to lift
Nor will you have to be on bended knee
It’s the needs of others, I want you to see
From your bed I want you to pray
Petition the Lord…
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