Thursday, April 24, 2014
I think the stress and sadness of packing up Jack's room and moving away from the house we loved did me in. Recovery was pretty quick, but I was left with neuropathy on my upper back. It is a constant burning, tingling sensation that gets worse as the day goes along.
Then in November, my shoulder became frozen somehow. After weeks of physical therapy (ouch!) I had regained almost all of my range of motion. Until I fell on black ice in my driveway, aggravating the frozen shoulder and injuring my OTHER shoulder.
It has been weird to be in almost constant pain. Not excruciating pain, but pain nonetheless. Sleep is the worst, because my shoulders wake me up throughout the night. I'm going to see an orthopedist today and will probably end up back in physical therapy again to break up the scar tissue. I'll let you know what I find out.
So, I've been thinking about chronic pain. The neuropathy has been around for 8 months now, the shoulder pain for about 6, so it's not like I've been in pain forever. But it's easy while in the midst of it to think that maybe it won't get better. I just don't know.
Also, it's as if no one in my house remembers that I'm in pain, or as if their interest had a very short shelf-life. Soooooo, do I wince as I move my arms and groan as I toss Advil in my mouth at bedtime? Will that gain me some measure of acknowledgment, or just make me look like a baby? If I were bleeding from the head or had a gaping chest wound, I think it might attract some notice, but my upper-body woes don't even get a, "How are you feeling?"
I have a friend who has dealt with debilitating headaches for well over a decade. I don't ask her about it every time I see her. Does she even want me to? How do I let her know that I know when I see her out and about that it has taken her a lot of effort? When she was going around to a parade of doctors, and spending time at the Mayo Clinic hooked up to a bunch of electrodes, perhaps then people asked her about her headaches more often. But what about in the day in and day out of being a wife, mother, and managing her pain? What about my friends with Lyme's Disease, RA, and MS?
Maybe they want me to ask, maybe they don't. I don't want to talk about my pain constantly-- I just want the people in my home to mention it with a sympathetic head shake, an "I'm sorry," or quiet cluck-clucking noises once every couple of weeks.
All of this thinking about pain has led me to think of grief.
When I actively had shingles, in all their oozy itchiness, it was easy to say, "I need to rest; I have shingles," or right after I hurt my shoulder, "Sorry, I need to go ice my shoulder now."
Similarly, in the days, weeks and months after Jack's death, our pain was right on the surface. I would venture to guess it might even have been visible, our anguish showing up on our faces and leaking out in tears. Now it is beneath the surface, ever present but not acute. Our pain has lessened considerably, but it is not going away.
I've learned a little about Complicated Grief , and that people suffering from it have symptoms ranging from suicidal thoughts, inability to enjoy life, anxiety, and difficulty with daily living. Complicated grief can happen to anyone, but certain risk factors are: an unexpected or violent death, a close or dependent relationship to the one who died, and a lack of resilience.
The symptoms I've mentioned here are not at all unusual while grieving, but they become Complicated when they don't ease up over time, causing the person to get stuck. Some signs that someone is grieving, but is not experiencing complicated grief, would be that the person is somehow adjusting to his/her new reality, the person is allowing himself/herself to experience the pain of the loss, and that he or she is able to maintain relationships with other people.
But, I wonder, is grief (straightforward, un-complicated grief) a chronic condition?
I think perhaps it is, because I know the pain and the gaping Jack Donaldson-sized hole will be part of me forever. Loving him so much means that space can't be filled with something or someone else. However, the hopelessness and the bitterness have abated, along with my magical thinking and ardent desire for time travel (well, maybe not entirely!). I don't feel stuck in my grief, and I am able to experience joy in a way that didn't seem possible two years ago.
If my grief is indeed chronic, I will remind myself that people deal with chronic conditions every day. They bravely learn to adapt, to live with the pain and manage it as best they can. Their symptoms may in many cases be invisible, but the fact that they are functioning and living life fully is a visible testament to their resilience and adaptability. I can do that.
Now if I could just hook my bra without wincing.