Created by Kat Woods, an artist and chef who shares her journey about healing from Lyme disease on her blog, HopeHealCook, this cartoon is just one snapshot from life with chronic pain. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts or magic fixes for chronic pain, and even when we don’t know what to do, we have no choice but to keep trying. This bitter pill is hard to swallow and has many side effects.
Chasing after accurate diagnoses and effective treatments is a full-time job that takes up a significant amount of time, energy, and brain space. Not only that, but it’s usually a frustrating job in an abusive work environment with an incompetent boss and very low pay. And worst of all? We can’t quit.
Finding Out What’s Wrong
As we all know, the first step in finding a solution is identifying the problem. But how can we put a finger on something that always seems to be running away? How can we give a name to something that is constantly changing? More often than not, chronic pain is evolving and unpredictable. In fact, in 85% of cases, the source of chronic pain is unknown.
From the triggers and symptoms to the sites and nature of the pain, chronic pain is a mysterious creature always coming up with new ways to evade capture. This uncertain reality creates endless challenges in daily life. How can we explain ourselves, make plans, or get help if we can’t predict what will happen five minutes from now?
Naturally, most doctors have a hard time figuring out what to do with chronic pain. After waiting six months for an appointment with a specialist, we may end up feeling perfectly fine on the day of our appointment, with no current symptoms to show. We are often referred back and forth between specialists for invasive tests in a futile attempt to figure out what is going on inside our bodies. In many cases, the medical professionals emerge from these scavenger hunts empty handed.
Treating the Unknown
As the above cartoon depicts so perfectly, even without a precise diagnosis, doctors often feel compelled to send patients out of the room with something in hand, whether it be a referral, a prescription, or a misdiagnosis. And, honestly, can we blame them? Admitting we don’t know where we can go from here feels like giving up. If there is no next step, then won’t we just be stuck here forever? This is a nightmare for doctors and patients alike.
And so, the search continues. We start new medications, try a cocktail of treatments, check out alternative healers, and play around with our diet in a desperate hunt for relief. We speak to people and scour the internet, trying to weave a solid plan for the future from delicate threads of hope.
The Price We Pray
These experiments often come with nasty side effects of all kinds. Physically, it’s like a game of whack-a-mole; it may feel good to get temporary pain relief, but is it worth the weight-gain, mood swings, high blood pressure, or risk of addiction that may come with it? And that is assuming the treatment is actually effective against the pain, which is often not the case. Sometimes, it even makes things worse.
Beyond the physical effects, the hunt for healing can drain us from every direction. From top-rated specialists and rare medications to private alternative healers and expensive diets, trying to take care of our needs has a hefty price tag. Moreover, the time and energy spent researching, making appointments, dealing with bureaucracy, or waiting for the effects of a new treatment to kick in drain resources that are simply too precious to be wasted. Finally, searching for relief can be a lonely rollercoaster ride through hope, disappointment, frustration, and despair.
Letting Go of the Fantasy
Despite how draining it may be to hold on to the dream of immediate and total healing, letting it go can be shattering. Will we ever be able to live the lives we so deeply deserve? However, after the emotional storm dies down, we may be surprised at how liberated we feel.
If we believe that our chronic pain is the only thing stopping us from living a full life, then until we get rid of it completely, we have no chance at achieving happiness. But what if we realize that there are small but real opportunities for pleasure and healing available to us at any given moment? Perhaps something as simple as saying “no” to a plan, drinking a cup of tea with a friend, or taking a nap. If we know that there is no magic answer, then along with our treatments and medications, we can also turn our attention to finding other things that work – even just a little bit – right now. As Kat sums it up so perfectly:
It may hurt to hear it, but it’s time to give up on the idea that if we just keep on trying, we’ll find a perfect solution. Of course, that doesn’t mean that we can or should abandon the search, but every once in a while it may be helpful to take a break from the arduous climb up the mountain to appreciate the view from where we are. So instead of trying to find a unicorn that will take you on a magical ride through the rainbows, climb onto the horse that’s right in front of you and enjoy a trot down the sidewalk – even if it’s raining out.