Writing With Pain

At the beginning of this year, I started experiencing pain in my hands. Sometimes, it was so bad that I couldn’t do anything but curl up on the sofa and try not to cry. The pain was in my fingers, my wrists – the joints and the bones themselves. After a couple of weeks, I went to the doctor.

Whilst not unkind or unhelpful, the doctor also couldn’t do much for me in that moment. He told me what painkillers to take and when, encouraged me to take more breaks when typing, and to come back if it returned. After a few weeks of failing to do all of these things (mainly the breaks part), the pain faded.

Then several months later – last month – it came back. But this time it was worse. It was in my knees and ankles and toes too. At points even walking was hideously painful. I foolishly did several World of Warcraft raids where, by the end of it, I was in so much pain that I was crying and cradling my hand against my chest. (Pro tip: don’t do this).

This time, raiding aside, I was better. In the initial days where it was worst, I did the minimum amount of work and no more. I found ways to avoid typing where possible, and in the end was able to actually fully take two days off. This really helped a lot.

When it didn’t go away I saw the doctor again, and have now had a partial diagnosis. I have a very severe Vitamin D deficiency, so it’s now a question of going on really strong supplements – then a long wait to see if there’s something stopping me absorbing it properly.

In the meantime, it’s about managing my pain. Obviously, I cannot stop typing. There is essentially no aspect of my job that doesn’t involve typing. But I can’t continue with not changing anything, because that will just leave me in a really unpleasant amount of pain.

So, here are the things I’ve been doing to help live with my pain:

I take breaks when I am in pain. Is this one super obvious? Yes. Am I nonetheless terrible at doing it? Yes. I’m not going to sit here claiming I’m good at taking long breaks, because that doesn’t happen. I am however getting better at taking 5-10 minute breaks if I’m in a lot of pain. And not using those breaks to type other things.

I actually take my painkillers. Hi, I’m also terrible at doing this. I have that ‘I should just be able to put up with this’ mentality regarding painkillers, and it’s awful. I’m not doing perfectly with this but I’m trying, now, to take painkillers as soon as I’m in pain. It’s a work in progress.

I ask for help when it’s really bad. No one can help me with my job – not easily at least – but there are things I can have help with, like cooking and housework. I’ve got a very strong tendency to just do something myself and not want to be a burden on others, and this past month I’ve had to be better at not doing that. And, again, I’m not doing it well – but I’m getting there.

I (eventually) took a couple of weeks off raiding. Because I am an adult and I am capable of accepting when I, uh, cannot play computer games. This one was actually one of the worst, because I felt that I was letting the other members of our raiding team down, but ultimately it’s better than my having pushed myself and injured myself further.

In essence, it was all about examining what I ‘ought’ to be doing and what I ‘could’ do, and making a compromise between those things. Pushing the boundaries of what I was able to manage, whilst not doing it so far that I compromised everything. It could take months for my pain to go away, so I have to make this a lifestyle change, not just a temporary habit.

I think sometimes this is what people miss about self-care. Yes, sometimes it is about having a bath with bubbles and relaxing and painting your nails and doing things that make you happy. But sometimes it’s about harder decisions – about compromising with yourself for the sake of your own wellbeing.

And it’s hard. I’m not going to lie about that. I’m in pain right now, whilst typing this, and I’ve been putting off getting up for painkillers until I finish. I’ve not taken a break since I started writing it. I’m not doing this perfectly at all, but I’m trying, and I need to be content with that.

So if you’ve got an injury or condition that has made it hard to work, or write – it’s okay. There are compromises to be found. And you’re not alone in struggling to make them.

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