A silhouette of a person being squeezed by a vice. Inside the silhouette is an isolated person peeking out from behind a curtain.

Chronic Pain & Isolation (and the IRS Auditor in Your House)

Pain – it’s a huge part of living with a chronic illness like rheumatoid arthritis. The thing is, when you have constant or chronic pain, it’s not the same pain felt when breaking a bone or cutting yourself – it’s an entirely different type of pain.

Chronic pain never goes away

We’ve all been there – it’s late at night and you get up to go to the bathroom and BAM! You smacked your toe into the coffee table again. Grrrr. It hurts, and for the next few days, your poor little piggy that went wee wee wee all the way home is going to be hurting. That’s acute pain, and it sucks. The good thing about it, though, is that it sucks, and then it goes away. Kind of like when you visit the in-laws. It doesn’t last too long, thankfully, and that’s the big difference between acute pain and chronic pain – chronic pain never goes away.

When you are in pain every day, it takes on a different form than one-off pain. Chronic pain changes the way that a person feels pain – forever. It’s like what happens after the first time you see the Star Wars prequels – you can’t ever go back again, and Star Wars is never the same after Jar-Jar Binks (talk about feeling pain).

Complications of chronic pain

Chronic pain is a complicated issue and it has many layers to consider. But first and foremost, let’s talk about what it’s like to live with every day. In another piece, I likened the chronic pain of RA to living with a hyena in your bathtub, and in yet another discussion I said it was like having an angry raccoon as your roommate. You can pick whatever angry creature you want though – hungry hyena, angry raccoon, IRS auditor – it doesn’t matter: chronic pain is like living with all three.

The uncertainty of chronic pain and its impact

You tiptoe around all day, praying you don’t upset one of your three always-already-irate house guests lest you have a really bad day – and that’s the real trick of living with constant, chronic pain. You never know just when that hyena is gonna bite your arm off, that raccoon is gonna maul you with rabies, or that IRS auditor is going to.. errr.. audit your… taxes? I don’t know, you get the picture. The constant uncertainty of not knowing what you are going to wake up to plays havoc with your stress levels, and that, in turns affects your pain level, and the circle of stress, chronic pain, and proverbial tax auditing goes on, unabated.

Chronic pain drains the body and mind

In addition to the ambiguity of chronic pain with RA, there is another factor that makes constant pain such a burden – it’s another word that rhymes with pain but starts with a “d.” Drain. Chronic pain is a drain on the whole system – body and mind. It is just as mentally exhausting as it is physically tiring to be in pain all the time. Trust me, I can speak from experience.

Imagine walking around all day with a soaking wet blanket draped all over you. Not only would it be heavy as heck, but it would be cold and dirty and just generally a, well, wet blanket (thus the saying). You’d use up so much energy trying to haul that awful thing around that your energy reserve would burn up faster than dealing with Wilma at the DMV. Ugh, I’m just trying to get my license renewed, why do I have to take an eye test, Wilma?

We hide our pain in appearance and speech

Finally, there’s another aspect of pain and what it does and this one rarely gets spoken of. Pain isolates. What do I mean?

Well, first of all, most people who go through something like rheumatoid arthritis and the chronic pain that comes with it truly believe that no one else can possibly understand what it’s like. So, they keep their thoughts to themselves. They say things like, “I’m fine” and “You know, getting on” and, “Why don’t you mind your own business you crazy lunatic???” OK, maybe not that last one. Well, let’s say I use that one rarely. OK, OK, less than half the time at least, I know that. The point is, most people going through chronic pain hide it in both appearance and speech, and sometimes it’s difficult to tell someone is even in discomfort much less in tremendous pain.

Sometimes, you don’t want to deal with it or are afraid to share

Believe it or not, the little act of telling the “I’m fine” lie actually opens up a huge chasm between the person in pain and everyone else. They think that no one really wants to hear the gory details of their pain, and to be honest, are probably correct most of the time.

But, not sharing at all makes anyone with RA who is in pain feel alone. As I said, pain is isolation, and so you shut out the world and batten down the hatches – half because you just don’t want to deal with it, and half because you are afraid to share. It’s a solitary life, and it hurts – inside and out.

Speaking more on the topic of chronic pain

Chronic pain is a complicated thing. And there’s much more to talk about than this short article, but it’s a start, and we need to begin the discussion about the chronic pain aspect of rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic illnesses. We have to bring it out of the dark closet and make it OK for the people who suffer every day to talk about it. Only that way can we begin to lessen the loneliness of being in pain every day. Talk soon.


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