Rev. John Watson famously wrote in the late 1800s: “Be pitiful [compassionate], for every man is fighting a hard battle.” This post is a little bit about my battle.
First, I call this series Healing School, not Pain School, because the main thrust is not to describe the nature of my pain to you. Even though I’m struggling with pain today, I fully believe Jesus has healed me. Still, I think there is some value in describing the medical issues to you I’ve dealt with over the past decade. To do so, I’ll take this one blog post to tell you a little story.
Most people don’t notice, but there are a lot of animals in my life.
Back in 2006, sometime during the spring, I left the door open in my parents’ house. Well, at least I’m pretty sure I left the door open … because later I found a couple of dogs snuck in. The dogs would stay quiet most of the time, but they would start yapping anytime I went running. They would yap on and off for several days after I did it as well. This wouldn’t have been too much trouble, except that I run when I play tennis, my favorite sport. I tried to keep playing tennis, but the yapping and barking just got louder and louder until I eventually quit for a while. I tried to get rid of the dogs using a couple remedies, including getting a better pair of shoes to play tennis in, but it didn’t really work. After a couple months, they quieted down, and I was able to play from time to time. The dogs didn’t really affect my life that much, but the next year it was pretty discouraging when I had to sit out my senior season of tennis in high school because of these dogs.
Honestly though, after high school, things got pretty quiet for a while. There wasn’t too much barking except when I got really physically active. I could still work out when I wanted to. Still, it was irritating since the animals would start making noise and bite me on the legs oftentimes for no reason in the middle of the day. It was not totally unbearable, just annoying.
In 2010, though, I left the door open again, and a cat came in. The cat was pretty quiet, and I didn’t notice him much until the end of the year. As the fall went on, I was playing bass guitar in the church’s worship band. The cat would follow me to church too. The more I played, the more the cat seemed irritated, and it started to wail pretty loud every time I played the bass guitar by the end of the year. I had to quit the worship band. Bummer.
That’s not to say the pets were making noise all the time. A great percentage of the time, none of them were making a peep. Otherwise, I think I might have gone crazy long before now! Still, they kept me in check.
In 2011, I was playing tennis, and apparently I left the gate open. A cat came in. Unlike the other cat, this one was immediately loud. It would meow and wail every time I tried to play tennis or even do push-ups. The dogs, now, were pretty quiet during this time, yet this cat was far more irritating than all the others. Many mornings, he would be the very first thing I heard when I woke up.
I wasn’t quite myself anymore. Now it was me … and four pets. No matter what I tried to do, they would always follow me around. I looked all over the Internet and went to many different doctors trying to figure out how to get rid of them, but nothing seemed to work. I had to quit tennis altogether, not because I couldn’t physically do it, but because the animals got way too loud anytime I tried to.
You have to trust me on this … because no one can hear the pets but me.
The most painful of all, though, was having to quit playing the keyboard. I have been a pianist since I was 10, and I love playing my instrument… but now it’s been about six years since I’ve been able to do it with any kind of consistency. Every time I would see someone playing the piano, I badly wanted to play as well, but I knew the cats wouldn’t let me get away with it. I knew that I could try to spend 30 minutes or an hour playing the keyboard, but for the next several days, the cats would not let me forget it, pawing and scratching at my arms and meowing at me.
I hated laying down my hobbies, but once I did, things were pretty stable, as long as I kept away from sports and music. I finished college and started teaching in Atlanta. Other than having a little trouble working out on benchpress, my life was not limited too much. It was annoying, though, having these animals always around, because sometimes they would start barking and braying for no reason at all.
Things started to get worse in 2015. After having a sinus infection for several months, I left the door open in my apartment in Atlanta. A couple of ferrets snuck in, and they started their little chattering whenever I would do things with my knees such as riding a bike. Then it was me … and the six pets.
Despite everything I tried, the only thing that I could quiet them down with was some over-the-counter cream, along with the occasional Aleve.
Things really got difficult in the fall of 2015. I joined the organization I’m with now and went to Africa for a couple months. Then the cats started making more and more noise. For some reason, they had been totally okay with me typing and writing for the first several years they were around, but before long, I found out that I could not write anymore with a pen or a pencil. Their meowing was getting too loud. It started to irritate the cats anytime that I would even type on a computer. They would bite me on the right arm and left wrist. This was really disheartening and a huge loss because I love to write so much. I mostly had to give up typing on the computer, and even when I absolutely had to do a little, I would do it looking over my shoulder, making sure I didn’t make the feline tyrants angry.
2016 was a tough year, to be sure, yet I pressed through with the support of faith, friends, family, voice dictation software, and a little bit of prescription medication. Unfortunately, though, I left the door open (yet again!) during some self-defense training I was getting as I prepared to go overseas, and a really big dog snuck in. This one started to howl whenever I try to do anything with my rib, including sit ups. Because of this one, for the past several months, I have actively been shut out of any kind of work out… Legs, abs, and arms… The rib dog decided he loved to bite me, too. That makes seven unwanted pets.
This, friends, is what it is like living with intermittent chronic pain.
It feels pretty crowded in here, needless to say! My mind can get pretty exhausted constantly having to think about all the things that might irritate the animals. The cats are making more noise than ever. They get extremely irritated now even when I use the touch screen on my smart phone or iPad. Even though I voice dictated the rough draft of this piece of writing, the cats really didn’t like the fact that I edited this.
Each animal represents a different part of my body that gives me trouble. The two dogs represent the insides of my shins, close to the ankle. The ferrets represent my knees, and the large dog is my right rib. The cats, by far the most troublesome of all, are my left wrist and right bicep. Every one of those parts of the body had a prior injury or irritation from which the sensitivity and pain never went away. Because of the continuing hypersensitivity and irritation, I recently have not been able to play sports, run, work out, play musical instruments, write, or even do more than a little typing on a computer or a tablet.
Whether it is the tendons themselves or the nerves that are causing the problem, I am still not quite sure after all these years. Despite thousands of dollars’ worth of tests for pathologies ranging from Lyme disease to rheumatoid arthritis, no doctor has been quite able to put his or her finger on the actual cause. Friends has recommended many remedies, but no exercises, teas, essential oils, or supplements have done the job … at least yet. Those that are close to me know that I’ve been suffering. I feel more limited than ever.
I don’t mean this to sound overly depressing, as there are a lot of people that are worse off than me. Today I am living in the metropolitan Middle East, and as far as occupation goes, I will tell anyone that I am happier than I have ever been. I absolutely love what God has given me the calling to do over here. I can still cook, clean, get dressed (quite fashionably, if I do say so myself) and do all the required aspects of my job. Because there are no outward symptoms, no one even notices that I’ve been suffering from these limitations. I’m serving my organization, my team, and am reaching out to a lot of people.
Juxtaposed against the pain, I feel like great sense of passion and fulfillment in what I do. Such is the tension of the life I live. Because of the prayers of friends and family, despite being over a decade into the struggle, I have more hope than ever that each day I am one day closer to experiencing freedom.
Stay vulnerable, my friends.