Tattoos and How They Relate to Chronic Pain

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20181204_210738I never imaged myself as someone who would ever a tattoo. I had nothing against tattoos; I didn’t see them as something I would do. The most significant reason being I use to be a total wimp about pain. It’s why my ears are only pierced once. It was fashionable to have your ears double pierced when I was a teenager, but I never could bring myself to do it. I was too afraid of the pain piercing would cause. If it hadn’t been for the fact that my ears were pierced when I was an infant, I probably wouldn’t have pierced ears. That wimpiness about pain is why I figured I would never have a tattoo done, no matter how gorgeous expression of individuality they were.

The joke was on me. It turns out; I had to get over my wimpiness where pain was concerned. I’ve come a long way since and I am a far cry from the girl, who use to freak out of the pain of getting a shot or blood drawn. Pain is now my constant companion. It’s been my bosom buddy for going on almost a decade. I have so many pain issues when I go into the doctor’s office; I have to break down my pain score by body part. “Well ma’am, my nerve pain is at eight on the pain scale today. However, my lower back pain is doing pretty well. It’s at a five.” I have learned how to live and thrive despite the pain. I take medication daily and utilize a whole host of therapies to help manage my chronic pain.

Dr. M, my beloved pain management doctor, who gave me my life back use to tell me that I had one of the most pragmatic outlooks concerning pain that he had ever come across in a patient. I accept that I will never be 100% pain-free. I recognize that no doctor is going to be able to cure me. I don’t want a cure or a miracle. All I want is for my pain to be manageable, to be bearable and still allow me to be a functioning mom and wife. I want to still be me.

I had lost myself in the two years between William’s birth and meeting Doc M.  My pain had gotten so bad that I didn’t feel like a functioning person. I didn’t feel like I could be a good mom or wife. I didn’t feel like I could keep going. I had lost hope. Then in August of 2016, I meet Doc M for the first time. He changed my life. He gave me my life back in May of 2017 when he put me on Belbuca. Belbuca was the miracle I needed. My pain is better managed than ever before. I spend a great deal of my time sitting at a three or four on the pain scale. For someone, who spent many years living at a seven or higher, that is amazing.

In September for my thirty-first birthday, I decided to get my first (and only) tattoo. I wanted a reminder that I was more than just my pain. I wanted something to remind me on my worst pain days that the choices which played a role in my health failing were worth it.  So I had my first tattoo done in gorgeous script on my left forearm. It reads, “Even after the pain & heartbreak, I’d make the same choice.

20181207_211054About halfway through having the tattoo done, I knew I had been wrong. It wasn’t going to be my only tattoo. I am not sure if I have adequate words to express the headiness that comes with having a tattoo done. It wasn’t overly painful (though I might not be the best judge of that.) and the endorphin high is spectacular. However, it was more than just that.  Having my tattoo done was therapeutic.

One could ask, “Why would I want to do something that was even remotely painful given that I live with constant pain.” But that is just it. I live in constant pain which I have no control over. Every night when I go to bed, I know there is a chance I will wake up in the morning in a flare. My pain will have climbed throughout the night and not respond well to my medication in the morning. I never know when I will be hit with a flare. Yes to a certain extent I can predict when one will come on, but I can’t predict how severe or how long it will last. Not only is there the uncertainty concerning flare-ups, but there is also always the fear I will wake up one day and not respond to my mediation; the chance that my body will grow tolerant and they will stop working. It’s happened before and likely will happen again.

But a tattoo? That is a pain I have total control over. If the discomfort (which is how I would describe the “pain”) gets to be too much, then I tell my artist, “Hey, I need a break.” and we take a break. I control how much it hurts by choosing the placement of the tattoo. I decide how long I sit for a tattoo. I control it all, and for someone, who doesn’t have any real control over her chronic pain, that is a powerful sense of ownership. Add in the endorphin high which comes with getting a tattoo done and it’s a surreal experience. I have spoken to several friends, who also suffer from chronic pain and have tattoos. They have all said the same thing that getting a tattoo is therapeutic for them.

I went to a get tattoo which would remind I was more than my pain. I came out having experienced control over pain for the first time. I learned something about myself sitting in that tattoo parlor. I learned of another way to look at my pain. I found an experience which was therapeutic. It allowed me to wrestle my pain in an entirely new manner. For the few hours, I was sitting for that tattoo, I pushed my chronic pain out of my mind and dealt with a pain I could control. The explanation seems so inadequate, but I lack the words to give justice to the experience. Despite the lack of words, I can say that getting a tattoo changed how I relate to my chronic pain at a fundamental level.

Earlier this week, I went in and had two new tattoos done. I had a memorial tattoo for my daddy put on my upper arm. Then behind my left ear, I had the Harry Potter chapter stars done in Ravenclaw blue. I don’t know what my next tattoo will be or when it will be done. However, I do know that there will most definitely be more tattoos in my future because as strange as it may sound there is something oddly therapeutic and satisfying about having control over pain even if it is just a temporary control.

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I am Healthy or I am?

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Photo one was taken Saturday afternoon at the zoo. I was feeling great and enjoying myself. Photo two was taken four hours after the first. I felt terrible and spent the rest of Saturday and almost all of Sunday in bed recovering.

Photo one was taken Saturday afternoon at the zoo. I was feeling great and enjoying myself. Photo two was taken four hours after the first. I felt terrible and spent the rest of Saturday and almost all of Sunday in bed recovering.

I am feeling better than I have, well if I am honest, in years. Not since I was pregnant with Antonio, our third son, who turned six earlier this year. I felt amazing when pregnant with him. Then he was born, and the pain came back with a vengeance. Hurting and feeling terrible was my standard. However, I kept trudging onward because there was nothing else to do. Over the last few months, I have established an excellent team of doctors- an endocrinologist, an internal medicine doctor, a pain management specialist, and a rheumatologist. Yup, I see four different doctors frequently. Plus, I have a cardiologist and a spinal surgeon who I see infrequently. This team of doctors, I have assembled over the last few months have finally started looking at the whole picture that is my health, and it is finally starting to pay off.

Numerous friends and family members have mentioned that I both sound and look like I am feeling better. My childhood best friend told me the last time we chatted that I sounded like my old self- the pre-sick me. My house is nice and clean. The boys and I are doing more activities. As a family, we are taking mini-road trips and going on outings. I am sleeping better and waking up in the morning is more pleasant. I am not suffering from as much brain-fog. I have more energy and less fatigue. Compared to how I was 8 weeks ago, I am healthy. However, here’s a secret…I am not cured. I am not really healthy. I am still sick. I still suffer from immense pain daily. I still have a long litany of symptoms. I still have a long list of diagnosis: Scoliosis, Arthrodesis (term for spinal fusion, which is indeed listed in my records as a medical condition) Ankylosing Spondylitis,Sacroiliitis, Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Trochanteric Bursitis, Myofascial Pain Syndrome, pain from nerve damage, unknown thyroid issue (still waiting on test), and chronic vitamin deficiency (still looking for the cause of this). I am currently restricted by my doctors to traveling no further than six hours from home. This really sucks, since I am missing out on a family wedding and a road trip to see friends. I am a walking train wreck. Yes, I am feeling better and it’s because I am blessed to currently be under the care of a great team of doctors, who are using medication, physical therapy, nutrition, and alternative medicine to manage my care. They have knocked several of my conditions back into remission, and the other ones are currently being well managed.

I am taking full advantage of this and living life to the fullest. However, even when I am feeling well, I still have to be acutely aware of what I am doing. I am never going to go bungee jumping or skydiving. I will never be able to hike the Colorado trail. I still have to be aware of what I am doing, because there aren’t any guarantees. I could wake up tomorrow feeling like shit- with all my conditions going haywire and out of control. I spent Saturday and Sunday laid up because I had a flare come up out of nowhere. I hadn’t done anything particularly strenuous either to cause it. It’s just the nature of having chronic illnesses, even ones that are being managed well. Being managed well can also change at the drop of a hat. Medicine can stop working for any number of reasons, or a new symptom can crop up. However, I nor any chronic illness/pain warriors can live in fear of flare-ups or conditions coming out of remission. We must make the best of things, both when we feel good and when we feel terrible.