I’ve always managed. Growing up, I took extra bathroom trips for the UTI symptoms that were never UTIs. I took naps for the mysterious leg pain that’s only cure was sleep. I popped Pepto-Bismol to avoid the digestive symptoms that would send my whole body into a mind-numbing tizzy.
I went to doctors, who sent me for tests. All came back normal. On paper, I was a healthy child, so all my management was quiet and secretive. People rarely noticed the pain medication I took before basketball games, or the times I’d slip away in the middle of a school day for a bit of rest in my car.
Chronic pain is a fascinating thing. Sort of like a mother who learns to tune out her screaming child, it can affect you every day of your life and you can fail to notice you have a problem anymore. Doctors have cleared you to live that “normal” life, so you just work through the symptoms. You see them as unfortunate annoyances, but nothing more. The pain slowly gets worse over time—but only a little bit worse than yesterday, and not enough to be alarming.
Researchers think we cry in part to signal to others that we need help. When you have chronic pain, you’re not sure you do. You know it hurts, but you don’t know why. You’ve tried to get help, but it’s been ineffective. So what do you do? Scream? Writhe on the floor? No. You’ve learned these pain responses do nothing to take away the hurt. You learn to live through it. Growing up, I did.
But after fifteen years of inexplicable pain, my body refused to be ignored. I finally fell apart in the summer of 2011.
I woke up one June morning with flank pain, slinking down the left side of my body. It sidelined me from my workouts, and then it grew worse. It was hard to breathe and impossible to fall asleep. I wound up in the ER for the first time in my life.
Doctors gave me a CT scan, and told me that the pain was most likely a kidney stone. I was worried when that little bugger didn’t show on imaging, but they said I’d probably passed it in the ER after three bags of IV fluids. I remember lying on that hospital bed, feeling confused and concerned. Continue reading on next page…
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