Four Years of Chronic Pain

By Crystal Lindell, Columnist

This month marks four years since I first woke up with random pain in my right ribs.

Sometimes it feels shorter than that. Sometimes, it feels so much longer.

I didn’t want to write this column. I didn’t want to acknowledge this anniversary.

I’ve been doing so much better lately. The pain, which is likely intercostal neuralgia, is way more under control than it used to be, thanks in large part, I believe, to getting my Vitamin D levels into the normal range.

But it lingers, it’s always there, like a black shadow and a heavy cinder block, pulling me back.

And after taking myself from 60 mg of opioids a day down to 5 mg, I decided this month to go back up a bit because the pain has been too much to bear. After talking with my doctor, we decided to go with 10 mg a day.

It feels like defeat.

I don’t know why the pain seems to be worse these days. It could be stress, it could be the weather, or it could just be because I wear Mac red lipstick almost daily now — it all really does feel that arbitrary.

And even though I try to manage all the possible triggers, sometimes it just flares up and leaves me unable to get out of bed. On those days, even the hydrocodone doesn’t touch it.

It’s frustrating. And I thought maybe if I didn’t write this column — if I just ignored the four-year mark — I could pretend I was actually all better.

I’m not though. Obviously, I’m not.

The pain still impacts so much of my daily life. I still factor in time to rest after a shower. I still make careful calculations about how much driving I can really do in a day before the pain gets too bad. And I still take lots of sick time from work.

I spend more time than I should counting hydrocodone pills and figuring out which bras hurt the least and avoiding hugs.

I do feel like I’m better than I was though. I’m completely off morphine, which feels like a victory. And most of the time, the pain is completely manageable with a very small dose of hydrocodone. Also, I’m lucky in that I can fake being well long enough that most of the time it doesn’t really impact how others see me. Most people have no idea I struggle with health issues unless I outright tell them.

It’s been a long four years. And I wouldn’t wish chronic pain on anyone. All of the good things — all of the ways I’ve learned to be more compassionate, all of the writing it has inspired, all of the bonds it helped me cement with family and friends who helped me out — I would give it all back if I could live without pain.

Alas, that is not my fate. This is my fate. A constant battle between living like a healthy person and feeling like a sick person. Medical bills. Driving two hours each way to see specialists. Sleeping only on my left side. This is my life. 

But at least I have my Mac red lipstick. Even the rib pain can’t take that away from me.

Crystal Lindell is a journalist who lives in Illinois. She loves Taco Bell, watching "Burn Notice" episodes on Netflix and Snicker's Bites. She has had intercostal neuralgia since February 2013.

Crystal writes about it on her blog, “The Only Certainty is Bad Grammar.”

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.