Chronic Pain And The Power Of Sucking It Up

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Wait! Just wait. Please don’t question my sanity or kick me to the curb until I have a chance to explain the obvious, albeit tame, clickbait title. It’s not what it sounds like, all judgemental and what-not, and I don’t believe that you have to suck anything up. Somethings can’t be pushed aside as if nothing happened. Life is too heavy, and we’re mere mortals so, there’ll be some spillage.

Suck it up? Oh, shush you. Whether it’s physical, emotional or psychological pain, you get to own that and process it at a pace that’s right for you. Nobody can or should tell you otherwise.

Which is why that phrase makes my eye twitch, and it triggers a very long, tired sigh. I get this twinge of pain along the bridge of my nose. I close my eyes and give it a massage. There’s a powerful urge to use indecent language, but I resist it— most of the time. Don’t ask me how! It might be sheer force of will or simply exhaustion. Either way, miracles never cease, and I keep my language family-friendly.

In my head, it’s another story. I can get very creative with my vocabulary. Such language! Oo, I made myself blush.

If a good friend calls me out, well, that’s different. Especially when I’m complaining about something trivial. It’s snowing? Damn it, now I have to shovel slush and… Grumble, grumble, grumble. Suck it up, it’s barely an inch, it’ll melt, and the exercise is good for you.

Suck it up, Buttercup.

And they’re right! I’m complaining about something inconvenient not traumatic. They’ve also earned the right to say something, and that’s a significant distinction. If a stranger tells me to inhale my grievances and swallow hard? Oh no, no, you did not. I’m passive-aggressively cursing you out in my head because I’m a people pleaser.

But there’s a difference between a loving comment said in jest and the flip side of the coin. It’s the other side that irks me and sets off my gag reflex. It’s the suck it up culture that comes across as aggressive, insulting, and painfully dismissive. At best, it’s a poorly executed attempt at reassurance. At worst, we’re telling someone to shut up because we don’t care about what they’re going through. Or we don’t want to hear it. Perhaps we can’t listen because it’s too heavy for us to carry. That’s why we break down their problems into chunks and make them more palatable for us, not them.

It’s like a parent cutting up their child’s food into tiny little pieces. An excellent practice for a toddler. But adults? We know how to chew, swallow and repeat. It’s a bit awkward, and quite frankly, it’s weirding me out. If it’s not okay with a plate of food, then why do we do it with someone’s mental health or challenging experiences?

I think it’s safe to assume that we have the best intentions. Still, it’s not a helpful thing to say to someone who’s in pain or struggling. We’ve made their story easier for us to swallow, but there’s still a ten-pound brick blocking their airway. If they can’t breathe then, how can they suck anything up?

That’s some grade-A logic at work right there. Questionable logic? Mm, that’s always a possibility. Maybe I’m experiencing a moment of hyper-sensitivity, and there’s a chance I’m looking for some reassurance. If one more person tells me to suck it up, I’ll— What? What’ll you do? Grumble passive-aggressively.

Oh, double shush.

Oo, but I bet you can’t guess who just told me to suck it up! Of course, you can’t. We’re internet friends, and you haven’t met any of my real-life cohorts. It’s hardly fair play, now is it? 

How about a hint? That’ll level the field a bit. Okay, here goes: Who has two thumbs and is typing the cheesiest sentence ever? Yeah, this gal. See, you didn’t have to guess. It was a freebie, and your prize is knowing that you read this far, and you have me profuse gratitude. 

Thank you. You’re welcome?

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I deal with quite a bit of chronic pain. When I was a kid, I had Renal Osteodystrophy. This type of bone disease occurs when the kidneys can’t maintain proper levels of calcium and phosphorus. That turns the bones into brittle twigs and wreaks havoc on the joints.

Luckily, when I had my kidney transplants (yep, plural) the bone disease went away, but it left a lot of damage. I have the joints of someone three times my age. Fun! And I had some of the damage surgically repaired but, there’s only so much that can be done.

I suppose I could have every joint in my body replaced and become 90% bionic. Is that a bit much? It’s not as extreme as having half of my body removed, and yes, I briefly considered it. It was a low moment, and I quickly rejected the idea. Instead, I’ve reluctantly made peace with the pain.

I suppose, if we slip on the rosy glasses, I can’t complain too much. All things being equal, I have some really good days. I’m mobile enough to take care of my needs and occasionally enjoy a lovely hike. There are times when the pain is barely noticeable, and I can pretend I’m normal.

The pain is there, it’s always there, but the last few days have been really good. I went for a few walks and enjoyed some unseasonably gorgeous weather. It was amazing and stunning. Beyond amazing, it was invigorating and rejuvenating. Screw the shopping channel at 2 AM! Your potions, lotions, and serums can’t compete with the power of mother nature and a gorgeous sunset.

That’s my favourite time to walk. It’s still light enough to feel safe, and most people are inside eating dinner so I can avoid the dreaded virus. The air is crisp but not freezing. At least it isn’t right now. We’ve been absolutely spoiled. It’s brilliant, and it does wonders for my mental health.

For some reason, my brain can’t ruminate and walk. I can chew gum and walk. I can have a drink and walk. I can’t worry and walk. Go figure.

By the time I circle back home, the sky is turning pink, and the street lights are flickering on. The stress of the day is melting away, and my dog is smiling at me. I’m ready to melt into my sofa and watch a movie with a friend. (Over FaceTime because of the dreaded thing with the scary stuff.) It’s the best way to end any day. Especially, a relatively pain free day.

Those are the good days, and I’m so grateful to have had a so many lately. But this morning the pain woke me up at 4 AM, and it wouldn’t let me go back to sleep. I tossed and turned, desperately trying to find a comfortable position, but nothing helped. I finally gave up around 6 and got up.

There was a lot of groaning, and some inappropriate language. I read somewhere that cursing helps reduce the pain. Is it true? I’m not a scientist, but it sure feels good when the right word is said with enough oomph.

It doesn’t get rid of it, though. The pain starts at the base of my skull, shoots down my back and into my hips. It hums furiously as it spreads down my body. There’s a burning pain going down my thighs, and my knees won’t bend. Today, my right leg is worse than my left, and the bottom of my foot throbs.

This isn’t a pity party, and I’m not feeling woeful about my current situation. It just is what it is. I wish it wasn’t, but what can I do about it? Pop some pills, do some stretches, and hope for the best? I suppose I could cancel my day, take the heavy-duty painkillers, and go back to bed, but that feels like a waste.

The sun is out again, it feels a little chillier than it did yesterday, but it’s still sweater weather. I can leave the winter clothes at home, and I can wear sandals. That alone makes me immeasurably happy. Seriously, I hate to have my feet covered, and sandals offer the freedom of breathability, with the safety of a decent pair of soles. Whoever invented them should be given a Noble Prize in Right on, Right On, Right On.

I can hear the birds singing outside of my window, and I want to join them. Not in the singing! I’m not much of a singer, but the outdoors looks so inviting. Besides, who knows when our luck will run out, and the wet weather will come raging in? I might as well enjoy it while I can, right? But the pain.

Oh, suck it up! Go on, get moving. What else are you going to do? Sit here wallowing until it turns into self-pity and woeful lamentations. Those are the choices. Suck it up or wallow. What are you going to choose?

What would you do if you were me right now? Keeping in mind that dealing with chronic pain means your level of tolerance is pretty high. Of course, it gets to you after a while because, despite being incredibly strong, you’re not made of cold hard stone. Most people don’t enjoy pain, and when it drags on, it wears you down.

But at the moment, this pain feels more like an annoyance than a burden. It sucks! True, but what’s worse? Sitting with the pain or forcing your body to move? Let the pain overwhelm you, or go outside and breathe fresh air? Rest or rejuvenate?

There’s no right or wrong answer here. Both are excellent choices, and I usually go with the one that feels right for me at that moment. It’s all comes down to what you need the most. Sometimes it’s rest. Other times it’s a change of scenery and a distraction. Going out, moving my body, takes my mind off the pain, and I get a momentary reprieve from the psychological effects of chronic pain.

This sounds counterintuitive, but moving those screaming joints can actually alleviate some of the pain. At least it helps me and yes, moving hurts so much. But if I want some relief, I have to tell myself to suck it up and get moving because that’s what my body needs. I don’t want to! My mind is naturally programmed to seek the path of least resistance. That means, in this case, curling up into a ball and pretending that I can transfer my consciousness into a healthier body.

Suck it up, Buttercup! Let’s go. Put on those shoes, leash up the dog, and walk out the door. You really need that twenty minutes of fresh air. It’ll make you feel more human, and you’ll thank yourself later. So let’s move. Let’s go. Suck. It. Up.

And there is a certain degree of power in doing just that. Correction, there’s a reclamation of power in sucking it up and moving my body. The pain can be overwhelming, and it can consume every thought, every second, of my life. If I let it, it overpowers me, and I lose control of my own existence.

I don’t want to give this thing, this broken body of mine, any more control. I don’t want to lose more of my life to this illness. I want to experience more, live more, and somedays that means I need to tell myself to suck it up. When I do that? I take back control of my body, my life and, this illness takes a back seat.

Again, that’s not always the right choice, and I’m still trying to figure out how to find the balance. There is power in taking a day to rest. There’s power in telling yourself to suck it up. Most of all, there’s a lot of power in showing yourself compassion no matter what you choose.


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