I read a quote this morning that really hit home with me. Part of it reads:
“A drop of water on a stone doesn’t do much, but a constant drip eventually erodes and changes the shape of the stone forever. Unrelenting pain is like a constant drip, forever changing parts of your soul…it takes its toll, physically and emotionally.” (Trisha Sidenquist)
Pain has changed me. I am a different person than I used to be. And, I don’t like the person I have become. I’ll get back to that point in a minute. First, how has pain changed me?
I once was a person who was self sufficient for the most part. I didn’t have to think about a trip to the store. I just went and bought what we needed, drove home, and carried the goods into the house. Things that stayed upstairs were put away. Things that needed to go downstairs were carried downstairs (in as few trips as possible so hands and arms were always overloaded) and put away. A dog or a cat would run on the stairs ahead of me and it wasn’t a huge concern. I could sweep the next step with a foot before taking it to make sure I wasn’t about to trip on an animal. Now, a trip to the store has to be thought out. After getting out of bed, showering, getting dressed, and eating something for breakfast, do I still have enough energy to go to the store? What is my dizziness level at that point? Is it safe enough for me to drive? And, if yes, how far? Is it a day where I can hot the freeway and drive the fifteen or twenty miles to Walmart, or is it a day that, while it is safe enough for me to drive, it is probably best that I drive only the five miles down the road to Target or Cub? What do I need to buy? Simple groceries aren’t too much of a problem, but if a twenty pound bucket of cat litter is needed, it is probably going to have to wait until the weekend when my husband is home. Lifting said cat litter up, hoisting it high enough to clear the sides of a shopping cart, and setting it down into the cart is usually not possible…not to mention the impossibility of carrying it from the garage to the door of our townhouse. It is just too far. Any type of excursion out of the house, especially by myself, not only takes careful planning, but needs to be held loosely since I never know if I am actually going to be able to follow through with it. Since most people do not understand this factor, making plans with others is usually a problem. I may have to cancel fifteen minutes before showing up to a coffee date, simply because it isn’t safe for me to drive. A few cancellations and most people write you off as a friend. I know all too well that sting of rejection.
There was a time when housework, while never fun, didn’t task me like it does now. I once could rearrange furniture or tackle several rooms for deep cleaning in one day. Now, thanks to pain, organizing a bookshelf is taxing and drains my energy for the day. Deep cleaning is seldom done unless we are moving, and even light cleaning is put off far too long. Big chores, like organizing a pantry (something that has been on my to-do list for six months) is just too much for me. The mental task of preparing for it and trying to figure out how to arrange it is too much. The physical task of actually doing it is even more so. This in turn frustrates me as I search to find something I know is in there somewhere, only to give up and go buy it, then to find it later that day while looking for something else I just know is in there…ugh.
There also was a time when, if I was cold, I would throw on a sweatshirt, drink something hot, or turn on a space heater and I would be fine. Or, conversely, if I was hot, I could sit in front of a fan or drink something cool and my body would cool off. Now, thanks to MS, my body’s thermostat is broken. When I get cold, multiple layers of blankets, space heaters turned as high as they can go, and all the hot chocolate in the world will not warm me up. If I get too hot, which is often more of a problem than getting cold, not only will nothing really help to cool me down, my body reacts in a way different than most. It will painfully spasm, I will feel very sick, and vertigo ramps up to the point that I can barely stand. Imagine trying to make plans with a body that reacts like this. In the summer, a simple invitation to a BBQ puts me in an instant conundrum. I ask my husband all sorts of questions. “What is the forecasted high for that day?” “Do they have air conditioning in case I get too hot?” “Will I look stupid if I wear my cooling vest?” “What do I do if the ice packs in the cooling vest start to melt before you are ready to leave?” Wintertime invitations aren’t much easier (although they are somewhat easier). Poor circulation and muscle spasms cause my feet to be ice cold all the time. Fuzzy socks and extra warm slippers, combined with microwaveable feet warmers (a gift from my youngest daughter that has been an unbelievable resource!) temper that level of iciness somewhat at our home, but going into someone else’s home can be a problem. Removing shoes and having only socks on can cause my feet to become painfully frozen–even if those socks are fuzzy and warm. The last six months have seen the nerve pain levels in my feet jump dramatically. That, in turn, causes any type of coldness in my feet to be excruciatingly painful. As my husband advances at his job, it has happened more and more that he is required to attend get togethers in homes of those higher up in the firm. It doesn’t look good if his wife never attends with him, but those kinds of things can be so difficult when one deals with such pain.
These are all examples of how physical pain has changed me. Physical pain almost always leads to emotional pain to some degree. In my case, the emotional pain has far surpassed the level of physical pain I experience–and since I used words like excruciating and difficult, perhaps you can imagine (but you probably cannot) the level of emotional pain to which I refer. The emotional pain is compounded by the fact that I WANT to be able to do all the things I used to do. I want to be able to grocery shop like a normal wife instead of making my husband take part of his much needed weekend to go to Petsmart to buy cat litter or to fight the weekend crowds at Costco because I can’t carry it all into the house. I want to be able to make plans with someone and be as certain as one can be that I will be able to follow through with them AND be present in the moment when I do–as opposed to forcing myself to follow through and then be mentally half checked out because I am exhausted or in pain. I want to be able to bake or cook of clean and feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in what I finish. But often, this is not the case. Too often I don’t even attempt to bake my husband’s favorite apple pie or cook his favorite dinner because I know that, while I can force my body to do these things, the pain is going to take its toll on me and drive me to an emotional godzilla-type person who has no patience when something simple goes wrong or a cat decides to lay on the floor directly in the path I need to walk. I know this because I have forced myself to do almost all of the things mentioned so far, and I have become an angry, impatient person in the process. Some of the things mentioned, like organizing, I don’t even attempt. It is a Catch-22; I get frustrated because the walk in pantry is in disarray or the upstairs closets desperately need to be cleaned out, but the physical task of doing so would send me into a tailspin of sheer agony. Not doing these things, though, emotionally sends me into a tailspin. I feel lazy and worthless because I can’t do the tasks a wife is expected to do.
Pain has changed me. It has taken its toll in so many ways. I have lost friends because of it. I hate myself because of it. I didn’t ask for it, yet it has become very much a part of my life. Most cannot understand the day to day struggle it causes. At one point, it caused me to seek out God. Now, it seems to have done the opposite, for it has contributed to my doubts about a loving God. I have said I could handle the physical pain if the emotional pain, the death grip of depression, would leave me alone. I stand by that statement. I wonder if its opposite could also be true–could I deal with the emotional pain if the physical pain were not so great? I don’t think I’ll ever know, for it seems they come as a package deal. They are constant friends that, ironically, leave me feeling so alone. Only death, I think, will rid me of this hell once and for all. Some days I plead with God to allow that to happen. Some days I contemplate taking that matter into my own hands. Most days, though, I just try to do the basic things I know my family expects me to do, hoping that if sleep decides to make an appearance that night, I will have a short reprieve from the torment of pain.