My Experience Living With Chronic Pain

Last Saturday at Shock Your Mom, a few of my friends and I were getting some water in the hallway of Gund Commons. I had been feeling mild pain for most of the evening, but at that moment, it was bad enough that I needed to sit down. I sat, leaned my back against the exposed brick wall and tilted my head back, trying not to think about how much I was hurting. One of the swimmer party hosts came over to me and looked at me with concern.

“You okay?” she asked me. She obviously thought I was extremely drunk, which I was not.

“Oh yeah, I’m fine,” I said, and I dismissed her quickly.

When I was sixteen, I had surgery to deal with pain I had been experiencing on the bottom of my left foot. Though the surgery was otherwise successful, when I was nineteen, I experienced pain in that area greater than I ever had before. I was formally diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. In more simple terms, I have to deal with chronic pain in the affected area, which may have in fact been exacerbated by the trauma from the surgery. Thankfully, my RSD is extremely mild, and I don’t deal with many of the symptoms that sufferers of severe RSD deal with, such as motor disability or change in skin color and texture. However, I was experiencing pain bad enough that I had to go through weeks of physical therapy to desensitize the area and to retrain the nerves in my foot to respond well to touch. For the most part, my RSD has been under control since.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have bad days, or bad hours. Sometimes, pain will flare up in the most random moments, and will go away just as suddenly as it appeared.

And there can be periods of weeks, months even, when I feel completely normal, and I experience no pain at all. A lot of the time, the pain is so mild that it feels like nothing more than just an annoying rock in my shoe.

My experience with chronic pain is not something I like to talk about regularly. I never want to inhibit my friends who want to go on adventures, and I never want to inhibit myself from doing anything I want to do. I often find myself dismissing people, just like I did with the swimmer at Shock Your Mom. I don’t want to elicit sympathy, because I feel that I don’t need it. There are people who have it much worse than I do. I don’t even have severe RSD. So what if I deal with chronic pain? It’s not a big deal.

But sometimes, though not always, it is a big deal. People take advantage of how easy it is for them to walk, when sometimes, for me, it’s the hardest thing I will have to do that day. When I’m at my worst, I walk with a slow limp and I’m not confident in my ability to get anywhere. My surgery at sixteen cut my high school athletic career short, and I do miss training for soccer and basketball every day. There are times when I want to go to the KAC and work out, but I’m afraid that I’ll experience a flare up of pain while I’m on the elliptical. Or there are days when I’m already in a lot of pain and even that walk down the KAC hill seems like agony.

For me, the hardest thing in the world is asking other people for help. If I hadn’t sought out a physical therapist when I was nineteen, I wouldn't e have gotten better or learned strategies to taken when I do experience a flare up. Later the night of Shock Your Mom, I told my friends that we needed to walk slowly back to our dorms because I was hurting. They acquiesced without question, because they are my friends and they care about me. If I hadn’t, we would have jogged back to escape the unusual April cold. Dealing with RSD has taught me that I do need to show my weaknesses to the world, or else I’ll never be able to push past them.


Image Credit: Gomoji, About Physical Therapy