Writing with chronic pain

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What’s it like being an author, parent, wife, and full-time worker?

Anyone who’s wearing these shoes can tell you that it’s just part of life and you keep at it. I’ve always been running on a high metabolism, so I enjoy juggling a couple of balls in the air – it keeps my momentum going. I’m an introvert by nature, but once you get a conversation started with me, I can talk a million miles an hour and tap into all kinds of crazy topics; it’s like a multi-track where there are several trains running at full speed. Stories come to life in my head, and my characters urge me to write their stories – something I can’t resist.

But what happens when chronic pain strikes? How do you deal with it? How does it affect you? Do you get depressed? How do you live life with chronic pain? Can you still write?

I’ll answer the questions in this blog article.

What happens when chronic pain strikes?

All seemed well until chronic pain came into my life a few years ago. The first was cubital tunnel syndrome (like carpal tunnel syndrome), which I had surgery for, and the healing took six months in 2017. Thanks to exercise, training, and relaxation techniques, my arm is good now.

Then, at the end of 2018, unexpected back pain struck me like an insidious evil carving through my skin and scorching wildfire into my left muscles, nerves, and upper spine. At first, I thought the pain would go away after being prescribed anti-inflammatory medication.

The pain did not go away. In early 2019, an MRI scan revealed a prolapse that required immediate surgery. So, I had the surgery.

Things were meant to improve, but they did not. Now, two years later, I’m still living in pain. These ‘best-of-the-best’ private-sector doctors have all played roles of the gods – there was Apollo, then Asclepius, followed by Sekhmet, Wu Tao, Airmed…and the list goes on for the number of ‘expert’ doctors with numerous degrees and university teaching records who were haughty and oh so omniscient. They claimed to know exactly what’s wrong, but their advice and treatment did not work. What amused me was their arrogance when I dared to say I was still in pain!

Then, there were natural healing therapies by chiropractors, naturopaths, physiotherapists, etc. – including one who left me semi-paralyzed for a few hours and my whole left arm bloated in swollen pain – I had to take my wedding ring off because of the swelling that night and suffered from a blinding headache, attached to the nerve pain stemming across a gridlocked highway from my upper back, down to my arm.

My new local GP is fantastic. He’s like Dr. Gregory House from the TV series named after the character. He’s gone above and beyond the ‘expert’ doctors to try to find an answer and treatment. He’s called different experts in his network, and now, after a six-month wait, I’ll be tested for nerve damage and muscle damage by the head of neurology at a local hospital next week. They may not find an answer, but I live with hope every day.

Do I get depressed?

Of course, I get depressed and anxious. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t feel any sadness associated with the long-term pain. However, I live for a better day and try to do as much as I normally can without exerting myself. I make use of the outdoors and fresh air.

How do I live with pain?

I work in my day job as I normally would, with the aid of heat packs, ibuprofen gels, and a strong medication that I take for the worst of days – which I take in the evening as it knocks me right out and I wake up feeling groggy after about 12 hours. When I take that medication, I know that I won’t be writing, editing, or doing anything after work hours.

The other thing I do is switch off from social media when needed. I’ll do the best I can to promote my stories, prioritizing my publisher first – but everything else is placed in the ‘noise’ basket. There are so many social media channels and people with questions I don’t always have answers for.

I don’t answer all the questions – only the important ones and yes, I do connect with readers and authors who hold a special place in my heart. I prioritize them first when I’m well enough to be online socially.

I know my limits and switch off when I need to. I don’t give when I cannot give. I know when my tank is running on empty – so that’s when I say to myself, ‘stop now’.

Can I still write?

Yes. Of course! There are windows in my free time when I get a good stretch of minimal pain and that’s when I’m most productive – I’ll prioritize the tasks I need done first, and get these done. Everything else can wait.

I’ve learned to prioritize what I can take in, working with my strengths and weaknesses. As a professional author, the first writing priority is my publisher and activities around my published work. Everything else can wait.

I realize that the least painful days are like windows of opportunity that come – I’ve got a certain amount of time to really focus on completing my writing tasks before the pain intensifies again.

I also have an author PA who does an amazing job promoting my published book, and she’s wonderful. When my pain medication kicks in and it’s lights out for me, I can rest assured that my book is being promoted. It also means that I can use the “feeling well” days to write – again, a focused approach.

What have I learned from living in pain?

I’ve learned to put myself first – that means my health and my family. They come first and that’s not negotiable. We all have our challenges during these COVID times and I need to tackle these challenges with my family first. What would you do? Leave a crying child while you answer a message from a writer who needs feedback on their story? Of course, not! The kids always come first. πŸ™‚

As I said earlier, I do get my ‘blue’ days but I take advantage of my surroundings. If it’s a sunny day, I go for a walk. If there’s a hailstorm outside, I watch my favorite TV show with my husband or read one of my favorite books – right now I’m reading A Merman’s Choice by Alice Renaud, one of the best fantasy romance authors in today’s world – her books are on Amazon.

Will there be better days ahead? Of course, there will be! I plan on doing so much more as an author. As for my health, I know I’ve got a good doctor who’s earnest and he does his best to refer me to the right people – even if it takes time.

I’m hoping for treatment to minimize/mitigate the pain after my visit to the hospital next week. Here’s hoping and praying for the best!

All good things take time.

20 Replies to “Writing with chronic pain”

  1. Thank you so much for the shout out Estelle and thank you for sharing your experiences. I think you are very brave and it’s amazing you can achieve so much while dealing with chronic pain.

  2. Wow. I had no idea. My heart is with you. I pray the specialist figures things out. I am proud of you for your positive attitude during all you go through.
    Happy writing. I hope.
    Callie

  3. You have a very positive take on chronic pain. Prioritization is key. I was diagnosed with arthritis when I was 14 and for the past 40+ years have dealt with declining health and increasing pain. Over the last 10 years, the pain has increased to the point where I have had to consider disability and some of the programs for work and life which aid. You’ve hit the nail on the head when it comes to pain and writing. The one thing I do want to say is when I’m writing – working on a story and the words flowing, it does help me push away the pain. Maybe because I’m usually sitting under a blanket and not moving most of my joints – but going into my head to the worlds I want to write can help me on my mild days to push aside the pain until my characters take a break. But the bad days can be mind numbing. Thank you for sharing your story!

  4. Wow… that’s a lot to deal with! Mad props, though, for keeping a positive attitude. As King Solomon wrote, ‘as a man thinks, so is he’. Or a lady, as the case may be. I hope things get better for you in the very near future!

  5. Chronic pain, especially when you have no idea of the cause, can be the most annoying thing; but, you definitely learn time management skills and how to prioritize.

    Alice’s books are some of my favorite as well. I think she’ll go far in the industry.

    Great blog post! πŸ™‚

  6. Loved this piece Estelle, especially since I can relate to most of what’s being said. I recall wanting to smack my previous doctor with all the force I could muster when he tried looking down at me because I refused to back down that I’m STILL in pain! Their position and title gets to their heads so much they forget they’re also human and didn’t started out as doctors.

    Cutting back on things truly does wonders.

  7. Estelle, my heart goes out to you. Yet with all, you go through you are optimistic and a productive writer. I will pray for healing and better days ahead. You are an inspiration.

  8. I wish you this next week visit finally clarifies something and helps to finally find a right treatment. 🀞🏻🀞🏻🀞🏻
    Hugging you tight.πŸ«‚

  9. This was so inspirational to read. Sending prayers your way, and hoping the neurologist figures it out. Chronic pain can suck the soul right out of you. I like your coping strategies. Keep fighting the good fight! You can’t go wrong with Dr. House in your corner. LOL.

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