Learning To Talk About Pain

I never thought I’d be someone who struggles with chronic pain

(the following entry is written anonymously by a mom in my tribe sharing about her daily battle with pain and her stepping into using her voice for healing and support)

chronic pain

I’ve always had headaches. It’s just part of who I am, and my momma used to tell me to make sure I ate well and often (as we thought they were related to blood sugar). I remember I would throw up in 5th grade due to them fairly regularly, and then I grew out of that phase. I continued just having occasional headaches, only needing ibuprofen to deal with it. Even right before becoming a mom, when I began having ocular migraines (seeing an aura prior to the headache), I didn’t need much for the pain. The pain was worse, and the vision problems were scary, but after being told it was normal, I moved on and didn’t get on a preventative medication or even use the abortive one I was prescribed very often.

My true difficulties began in February of 2017 when my kids and I all got the flu. At the time, they both needed me in the middle of the night if they woke up. My daughter was still somewhat adjusting to our family changing when we adopted our son in 2016. I did not do a great job of taking care or myself during that flu apparently. I remember not eating very well and not wanting family or friends to come over to help for fear that they’d get sick. I was doing it all myself, which was something I was comfortable with. I think I really like being the only one to take care of my kids even more than some, because I did not get the first years of their lives with them (as they were adopted as toddlers). So I tend to want to do it all, even if it’s hard, especially for the sake of our parent/child bond. It’s my privilege and my job as their mom to do it.

So about a week or so after the flu left us, I began to get a headache. I just couldn’t shake it.  My husband didn’t understand what was wrong with me because normally I got better faster from headaches or migraines. Five days later, it was worse than ever, and I asked my husband to look at a small spot on my forehead. I figured he would dismiss it, but his eyes got big and he said, “That’s shingles.”

And hence my life changed.

chronic pain

Nothing has been the same since that terrible diagnosis. It started with horrific, debilitating pain during which I thought I was dying multiple times. As a professional therapist, I eventually recognized that I was having panic attacks with the waves of intense pain, so I utilized mindfulness strategies with my pain medications. It was brutal. I thought it would be gone within a few weeks, at least.

It has now been over a year.

I don’t have the intense pain that I had during that initial outbreak when the rash was active, but I have daily, chronic pain from the horrible virus of shingles. My trigeminal nerve was impacted, so the vision in my right eye is not great and my right ear aches often. The worst thing though is my ‘pain spot’ in my head; it is a bundle of angry nerves that apparently don’t want to heal yet from shingles. Post herpetic neuralgia is nerve damage; I just have to wait and see if it will fade away or if it won’t. There are preventative medications I take for the pain now, but there’s nothing that works for the pain spikes other than ice and rest. It is different from migraines in that way. It has also interplayed with my migraines terribly, so now they are worse than they were before shingles, and I do have to take preventative and abortive medications.

chronic pain

My children are wonderful. My home and job are amazing. My husband is my biggest supporter in life. My family is always, always there for me. However, it has been the hardest year of my life. And in the past I’ve gone through things that should’ve been much more difficult in my opinion. My close people know the events that I’m talking about, both emotional and physical things. Those things should’ve been harder, and I’m a little angry that this issue is what is taking me down. Chronic pain, as I have just now claimed it for what it is, has clearly been the trial I’ve been the most humbled by.

It’s been helpful to let my shame about this go and to start talking to people about it. I mean, people knew I struggled some physically but no one knew the extent of how much this has taken over my life. I’ve been evaluating lately: what exactly do I feel so ashamed about?

Clearly, I didn’t want to get shingles, and being the 5% who maintains the nerve pain (called post herpetic neuralgia) wasn’t on my to-do list either. I can usually talk about emotional issues relatively easily, and even with infertility, I found a way to share that journey with people. With this, the pain has been so intense for so long that I’ve recently noticed I have isolated myself in some ways. I didn’t want to bring others down, constantly complaining of pain; I couldn’t stand the thought of being that negative person. I also didn’t feel good enough to talk. I am at my worst, and somehow telling everyone all about that isn’t priority.

migraines

However, I am learning. I did not choose this, just like I didn’t choose other paths that I more easily processed with family and friends. Just because post herpetic neuralgia from shingles is not as easily measured as strep throat or something- that doesn’t make it less. It is an invisible pain, people aren’t going to know anything about what I’m walking through unless I tell them. And I have not wanted to tell people. I have wanted my interactions with others to be lighthearted and not about this draining thing. I have wanted to ignore it, but it will not be ignored.

I think others with ‘invisible’ pains will know what I am talking about here; it is extremely difficult to know how much to share before I’m oversharing. It’s like opening up a dam; I don’t want to open that up to everyone I speak to. Sometimes to even ask others how they are doing is near impossible with the throbbing in my shingles spot; I am so sad I can’t even hear their answer through the gnawing in my head. I’ve never been this debilitated before, and most people have absolutely no idea I even suffer.

I’ve watched primarily my husband (& my mom) see me change. Because at the end of each day, I can finally let go, and often times that means crying with an ice pack on my head. I cry so often in the evenings that I have stopped knowing how much is the pain and how much is my medication making me more emotional.

Both things make me cry; I can’t tell anymore. I am drained entirely, and I miss being me.

Side effects from medications are hard, but not as hard as the pain. I’ve never been so vulnerable to my loved ones, and they cannot fix the pain I am constantly in. My hopelessness in those moments turns to despair and depression. I have just now begun recognizing that I do have depression, especially during pain spikes. I don’t want to be the Christian who puts all their joy in circumstances; I have always known in my mind and heart that that isn’t the right thing to do. My body, however, has been failing me; I am not sure how to go through this painful season. I certainly don’t know how to coach others on how to help me through it. Humbling to my core.

support

I recently switched doctors, and my hope is renewed. There are certain friends (& of course family) who DO know my whole story and have walked me carefully and kindly through this whole ordeal. I’ve stopped asking God when it will be over, and now I’m asking Him what His purpose is.

And so, I wrote. I write today to validate the person struggling in silence. Maybe you can’t quite figure out how to let others into your story because it’s too sad, too awful to bother other people with. Let them in. Let someone in, not everybody in. Somebody or two somebodies or even three – they will support you in moments you think you can’t go on. Suffering in silence isn’t brave. It’s not the right thing to do or the kind thing, as I once thought, no matter the type of suffering. Don’t refuse anyone into your world, however hard it is. Claim whatever season you are walking through. “Hello, my name is ******, and I have had difficult, life-altering chronic pain for over a year now.” This is me, learning to accept my season. I didn’t want this season, and I didn’t ask for this season. However I better accept it. I’ve been refusing to for long enough, and that has gotten me nowhere.

So, my first step has been to claim it, to accept it. And to talk to my people about it-with a grateful heart for their loving kindness and patience. I know I can endure the pain, as I’ve been doing so. I just pray that this season of chronic pain does not go without the ability to touch someone else’s life. I want to give this to God to do what He will with it; I want it to produce something worthwhile if that makes sense. So with that, I give you my ‘rough draft’ of this year of pain. It’s not wrapped up with a pretty bow yet. The pain is still here and wreaking some manageable havoc, both physically and emotionally. However, just knowing I’m not alone in this and that I am loved fully through this has meant the world to me. And I won’t be seeking isolation from my loved ones anymore, no matter the temptation to protect them from this. Scripture is my refuge:

“He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭18:19‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
2 Corinthians 12:8-10

faith

I’m praying that my Rescuer will once again rescue me from this. However, I am okay whether God brings healing or if He doesn’t.

How to Support Your College Student During Finals

Forward: Welcome Intern Karley Knight back for her continued perspective of a college student giving advice to novice college parents….if you missed her last post find it here with her sharing about the big transition from high school to college.

It’s that time of year again.

 The weather is getting cooler, people are digging out their favorite boots and jeans from the depths of their closets, everything is pumpkin spice flavored, and everyone is already counting down the days until Christmas. But as the leaves change colors and begin to disappear from the trees, so does the mental sanity of college students.

supporting your college student during finals

Finals Week!

Finals week is unique in the world of stress because it entails both a sense of urgency and a perpetual feeling of being unprepared. Even though your student studied for weeks, written copious amounts of colorful notes and highlighted every sentence in the book (because of course every sentence is a possible test question) in most cases the feeling of pure confidence is rare. As a parent who wants to protect their kid from such distress and dislikes seeing them in much turmoil, what are you to do? Sadly, there isn’t much you can do to take away the panic your child is feeling, but just because you can’t eliminate that stress doesn’t mean that you can’t alleviate it a little bit. Here are some suggestions to best support your frazzled college student as they prepare for hell (or finals) week:

Watch Your Communication

Whether you’ve been talking to your student twice a week since they’ve left or once a month, your communication dynamic is about to change. Conversations will now focus on the monstrous tests that loom in their future, how sleep deprived they are, and other things parents don’t want to hear. It is typical for you to want to check in on your child even more during finals season because you know it’s a difficult time for them, but I advise against this. Recognize that your student is probably immersed in studying and involved in study groups, so constantly calling will just add to their distress and distract them from studying.

Now this doesn’t mean that you should ignore them completely, but don’t helicopter them. Whenever your child explains their anxious feelings they aren’t expecting you to solve the problem, instead what they are seeking is comfort and reassurance from their loved ones. When you do talk to your student, make sure your interactions are positive and always end on a good note (“I love you” or “I’m sending you money” [a personal favorite]).

Encourage them to do their Best, not Be the Best

High school and college differ most in environment and grades. It’s easier to expect A’s and excellent academic performance in high school because the classes are much easier compared to what they take in college. In many classes, the score of the final exam has the power to dictate what the final grade of the course is, meaning that even if they ace all of the other assignments a poor final grade could tank the overall course grade. It’s VERY important to assure your student that you are expecting them to do the best they can do and put in as much effort as they can, but remind them that you’re not expecting them to be Einstein. Don’t make your child feel like they would be returning home as a failure if they don’t get a perfect score on their exams. Instead, whenever you’re having those positive conversations with your student, include how you will love them no matter what grade they get and that you believe in them. Fueling their self-esteem will make them feel more confident and competent going into their exams.

supporting your college student during finals

Remind them of the importance of Self-Care

It’s easy for students to get caught up in the hype of finals week and follow the bad examples set by their peers of not getting adequate rest, eating nutritious things, or even neglecting to keep up their personal hygiene (it happens and its gross). But even with less extreme cases, it’ still common for your student to develop bad habits while they’re preparing for finals because they’re too preoccupied with making their final grade a priority instead of taking a step back and taking care of themselves. What they don’t realize is that by neglecting to fulfill their needs and allowing their mind to recharge, their stress will only increase and their studying won’t be as effective. Remind them that while grades are important, it shouldn’t come at the cost of their own destruction. Taking care of your human is more important than taking care of your GPA- no matter what their college adviser says. Here are some basic reminders that I think all college students should be reminded of regarding personal care during finals week:

1. Pizza is not a food group.
2. Energy drinks are not a food group or a substitute for sleep. They’ll ultimately make you feel shaky and sick because you’ve been chugging 5 hour energy drinks (or whatever cheap gasoline-like energy fluid of choice) every day without eating
3. If you’re drinking more than 3 cups of coffee a day then you need to take a serious nap because that is also NOT okay
4. SHOWER. Non-negotiable
5. Indulge in small snacks and sweets every now and then to reward yourself, but don’t make that the only thing you’re eating.
6. Take a run or workout, the endorphins will make you feel better (and I like to think I’m literally running from my problems)

supporting your student during finals

Give them something to look forward to

One of the tools I find very effective in providing some emotional relief during such a taxing time is to give your student something to look forward to. If all they can see in their future is a dark, dreary raincloud of hard tests and potential failure, it can be very discouraging and puts your child at risk for depression. Putting a bright light and promise of greener pastures in their future creates a ‘finish line’ of sorts on finals to remind students that although it may not feel like it, finals season does not last forever. Whether it’s mentioning a fun winter vacation or just promising them that they’ll return home to nice home cooked meals again, getting them exciting about something will do wonders for their motivation. Adding an end date to a hard time makes surviving it much easier. It encourages your child to do well in the present in order to enjoy what they’re looking forward to in the future.

Don’t underestimate the power of a Care Package!

Every now and then my mom will send me a small package of goodies in the mail. Whether its a surprise or not, it never fails to bring me so much joy. Having someone send me a considerate ‘thinking of you’ gift from home makes me feel so supported and revives my spirit. I highly encourage parents to ship their student a box of goodies to send some love their way (if your student attends community college consider just surprising them with something). It can be filled with anything from gift cards, snacks, supplies, or even just a handwritten card. This will provide your student with so much comfort and will be much appreciated.

Check out our Pinterest board for ideas

happy mind happy home pinterest

Every student deals with stress differently and every college structures their finals week differently, so take my advice with a grain of salt. But even though finals week will differ amongst campuses, you can bet that the colder the weather gets, the stronger the student stress. This is an important time for you to reach out to your student and show them your support, I promise it will bring you closer together if you comfort them during this hellish time.

Good luck!

Good Bye High School, Hello College

So nice to hear from someone who recently went through this big transition. She shares what helped her the most when it was time to go. Written by my Summer intern Karley Knight who spent the first half of her summer studying abroad in Ireland and the second half helping me get more “put together.” She offers parents a few hints as to what your budding college freshman really need from you as they get closer to move in day.

The big transition…

          Consider two fruits- apples and bananas. They’re both fruits, nutritional, and have the same goal- to fulfill hunger. However, they differ in crucial ways. They’re different colors, taste differently, have different benefits, and so on. Compare the similarities and differences of apples and bananas to high school and college. Both high school and college are forms of schooling, have the same goal of educating students, and so on. However, they also have defining differences that make them seem like two completely different concepts.

going off to college

            Almost every high schooler can’t wait until they can finally escape the immaturity and monotony of high school to flee to the magical idea of college. They’ve enviously eyed college students and their wild parties, autonomy, and seemingly glamorous lifestyle from the confines of their dreary hallways for the last four years, and they’re more than ready to join the cool crowd. Although dreaming about their idealistic future can be exhilarating, their excitement can be easily squashed when they realize the other, more sobering factors that go along with leaving home. They have to think about the less fun realities of college- harder classes, doing their own laundry, having to shop for groceries, and other things they’re used to having their parents do for them.

            I was just like the majority of overly enthusiastic students whenever it was my time to depart for college. After graduation, I was so excited to finally exchange my all too familiar small town for a new, diverse college environment. I was so busy planning how I would decorate my dorm room, constructing my class schedule, and picking out school supplies that I didn’t leave any time to think about anything else but the pros of moving away. As the summer drew to a close and move in day crept closer, my blind enthusiasm slowly began to be replaced by a growing realization of what I was leaving behind. I had been waiting for move in day for so long that I’d forgotten that it was actually going to happen. I now thought about how drastically my life was about to change, and had the same worries that most college freshman have, such as the first week of classes, dorm life, a new social scene, and so on.

what i needed from my parents            My parents were a huge help in assuaging my newbie college anxieties. Their support helped my transition from high school senior to college rookie smoother. There were three main things that my parents did in the time leading up to my farewell that really encouraged me:

  1. Constantly reminded me that my core social support (my family) would always be there for me with unwavering love
  2. Advised me that I wouldn’t be 100% successful, and that it was going to take me a minute to get used to my new situation, but that it was okay to not be perfect at everything right away
  3. Always demonstrated genuine confidence in me and my ability to adapt and thrive in college

            By having a secure, supportive backbone to fall back on, I felt less alone in my journey to college. In addition, by being told that I wasn’t expected to automatically be perfectly established in college alleviated the pressure I put on myself to prove that I could be successful on my own. The third, and probably most important one, was the way my parents responded to me whenever I expressed my apprehension about leaving. Both my mom and dad always assured me that they had no qualms concerning my capability to do well in college. They constantly told me how proud they were of me for going to college and how excited they were to see me flourish in the coming years. By hearing about how others believed in me helped me believe in myself, which was crucial in assuaging my fears. I encourage parents with kids preparing to leave the nest to practice these same strategies to help their children feel better during this time.

            Parents shouldn’t expect their kids to be perfect, but instead expect them to learn from their experiences and become a greater person because of those opportunities. And although they may want to, parents can’t do everything for their kids. They can support and advise them, but ultimately adolescents must learn for themselves how to manage their affairs on their own.

college transition

This progression period is a tough time filled with conflicting emotions of excitement and anxiety, but the transition from home to college is a very important time in a person’s life. College helps develop one’s true identity and realize what they really want in life. It seems daunting in the beginning, but after acclimating to college, life becomes much more exciting.

Written by Karley Knight

I Get By

…With a little help from my friends!

On this Thankful Thursday, I want to give a shout out to the super-mama soul sisters who help me keep my sanity.  We all bonded as a misfit group of moms in the same kindergarten class (aptly entitled Mrs. Maddox’s Monsters ) and we have stuck together ever since. Our group is a self-proclaimed “GOOD VIBE TRIBE”  and I am not sure I can adequately express in words how much this group of ladies has meant  to me over the last few years.

Together, we have endured everything from the tiniest of playground dramas to the most devastating life events; including deaths, divorces, serious illnesses, and a lest we forget, the occasional mid-life crisis.

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