Invisible Pain

I posted this recently on my blog, Linda Kruschke’s Blog. This post was inspired by a flare up of my fibromyalgia. One of my fellow bloggers who has bipolar commented that the pain of bipolar is also a form of invisible pain. It occurred to me then that this is a perfect post for the encourament of broken believers, many of whom struggle with some form of invisible pain, whether physical or mental pain.

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I really didn’t want to write about fibromyalgia, but then I realized that sharing my struggles with this syndrome might help someone else who struggles with invisible pain.

When someone breaks a leg, or suffers a severe burn, or is covered with cuts and bruises it is easy for people to see what is wrong and to sympathize. But the pain of fibromyalgia is invisible pain. From the outside the person suffering with the pain of fibromyalgia looks just fine, and so people don’t understand what they are going through.

It is also an unpredictable pain with no easily determinable cause or trigger. One day you feel just fine and you wake up the next day feeling like you got run over by a freight train. I’ve gone for months feeling fine, with very little pain, then suddenly every muscle in my body aches and certain movements cause sharp pains in my legs, arms, and neck.

I try to figure out why. I’ve had doctors give me conflicting theories of what causes this pain, and I have read conflicting theories as well. One doctor told me it is a chemical imbalance in the brain. Another has told me it is caused by what I eat, by an inability of my muscles to process sugar that results in toxins in my muscles. Another suggested it is a symptom of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that stems from some early trauma. I have also read that there is a strong link between fibromyalgia and Epstein Bar Virus (or mononucleosis), which I had when I was in junior high. Finally, I have read that it is simply hereditary.

The pain of fibromyalgia is truly invisible. There is no medical test that shows whether someone has fibromyalgia. There is a “tender point” test in which the doctor checks 18 designated tender points on the body and if 11 or more are tender to the touch a diagnosis of fibromyalgia can be made. But even that test is somewhat subjective.

All my life I have felt pain in circumstances where someone else thought I shouldn’t have felt pain. I can remember saying something hurt when I was a kid only to be told, “That didn’t hurt.” This summer I experienced pain from something that didn’t seem like it should hurt. I was at my cousin’s house in Houston and his granddaughter was playing with three pine cones. She kept handing them to me to play with, but the sharp points started to really hurt my hands. I said I didn’t want to play anymore because it made my hands hurt. My sister looked at me and asked, “Does that really hurt?”

Invisible pain. It’s difficult to cope with sometimes. But I know that Jesus knows how I feel, and that give me a great deal of comfort. Although the pain Jesus experienced when He was scourged, beaten, and crucified was quite visible, He experienced an invisible pain, too. He experienced the pain of having the sin of the world laid upon Him and of His Father turning away as He cried, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46 (NIV).

If you struggle under the weight of invisible pain, take heart that you are not alone. Christ understands your suffering and your pain. You also have fellow Christians who understand what you are going through. The apostle Peter provided for us who suffer a wonderful encouragement in his first epistle:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. 

1 Peter 5:6-11 (NIV).

Satan would love to devour us in our pain, to make us fall and cease to be of use in God’s kingdom. But if we cling to Jesus, cast all of our fears and anxiety on Him, He will help us to defeat Satan’s plans. If you are struggling with invisible pain and feeling like you are at your wit’s end, leave me a comment and I would love to pray for you. It would be a blessing to me to be able to ask our Lord to strengthen you and give you peace and comfort, that you might be enabled to stand firm in your faith. Would you do the same for me?

ysic, Linda K.

http://lindakruschke.wordpress.com/

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Pain and Prayer in Poetry

This poem is an acrostic of sorts. When I originally wrote it I titled it Prayer, but the acrostic letters that begin each stanza spell PAIN. It was written at a time I was in a lot of physical and emotional pain, and found that prayer was the best way to find relief, if not physically at least mentally and emotionally.

Prayer

Prayer finds me
seeking You for
comfort and healing
here on my knees

As I come to You
my mind is turned
to others who need
what I seek for me

Immanuel, You
are with me now
as I focus on You
instead of my pain

Never to forsake me
You have promised
I find it is true
when You I seek

What’s Your Pain Number?

If you have fibromyalgia, suffer from migraines, or have some other chronic pain illness, I think you can develop a skewed view of pain. Then when you go to the doctor because of some new or acute pain, and they ask “What’s your pain level on a scale of 1 to 10?”, I wonder if the answer is the same as it would be from someone who is otherwise healthy. I think that it may not be. I think when you deal with chronic pain what level of pain you consider tolerable – because there is no choice but to tolerate it – is much different than the person who is accustomed to living with a zero pain level.

It used to frustrate me when doctors would ask what my pain level was because I had no frame of reference for what was a 3 and what was a 9, or anything in between. Finally, several years ago, a pain specialist gave me a pain chart that I found very helpful in that it provides a description of each number on the pain scale. (I had to chuckle that they include “0 – No Pain” on the chart because I have no idea what that is like and wondered what the point of including this on the pain scale, except maybe to torment those of us who can never honestly say we are at 0.)

Anyway, I thought I would share this pain scale here, for those of you who have never had a doctor who was kind enough to give you a somewhat objective frame of reference. (I say somewhat objective because, as I said above, I think chronic pain can skew your view of what is tolerable pain.)

  1. Minimal = Pain is hardly noticeable.
  2. Mild = Feel a low level of pain; aware of pain only when paying attention to it.
  3. Uncomfortable = Pain is troubling but can be ignored most of the time.
  4. Moderate = Constantly aware of the pain but can continue normal activities.
  5. Distracting = Pain is barely tolerable; some activities limited by the pain.
  6. Distressing = Pain preoccupies thinking; must give up many activities due to pain.
  7. Unmanageable = Constant pain that interferes with almost all activities; often must take time off work; nothing seems to help.
  8. Intense = Severe pain makes it hard to concentrate on anything but the pain; conversations difficult.
  9. Severe = Can concentrate on nothing but the pain; can do almost nothing; can barely talk.
  10. Immobilizing = Pain is excruciating; unable to move except to seek immediate help for pain in emergency room, etc.; bedridden.

I recently experienced a pain in my side and abdomen that was different than and in a different place than any pain I have ever felt before. After talking to an advice nurse on the phone, I went to urgent care because she said I needed to be seen right away. She was concerned that it might be appendicitis or gall stones.

Once at urgent care, the doctor asked me the million dollar question, “What’s your level of pain on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst pain you’ve ever felt?” I really wish I’d had my handy pain scale with me. If I compared the pain I was in that day to the worst pain I’ve ever experienced (which happens to be a 10 on the above scale), it really wasn’t that bad. I think I told him it was a 3 or 4. But based on the above scale it was more like 6 or 7.

It turned out I don’t have appendicitis, though they still haven’t figured out what is wrong. But as I thought about my experience with this urgent care doctor, a guy who didn’t know me at all, I wonder how seriously he took my complaint of pain since it was only at a level of 3 or 4. I wonder if someone else coming into urgent care whose “worst pain ever” was only a 5 on this scale would have answered his query much differently.

Reducing pain to a number doesn’t seem that helpful to me. Does a subjective number that is skewed by the patient’s prior pain experience really help a doctor with a diagnosis? I don’t know that it does. So I think I’m going to print off this pain scale on a small piece of paper that I can easily carry in my purse so that the next time I’m asked that question, I can pull it out and have an objective description of my pain for the doctor.