💊 Talking about pain

Photograph of my hand with a badly inflamed knucle

I never particularly cared to talk about pain. There are many maxims about pain, and I am not macho guy, but I simply felt there were better things to talk about. I didn’t want to worry people, and frankly there are people out there in much worse pain. I realized recently, I don’t know how to talk about pain. Worse, I have been ignoring it lately, and living with it unnecessarily for too long.

My history with pain

When I was 16 I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. If you don’t know, it’s an autoimmune disease where your own immune system attacks its own joints. I remember waking up one morning, attempting to roll out of bed, and feeling a shock of pain that was so intense — it threw me onto my back. I cried. I shed tears walking up the stairs at school with a heavy backpack. Eventually, I was on various medications. Vioxx, Enbrel, and Naproxen where among the list.

If you know me, you know I use the word ‘hate’ rarely. I believe there are few things in this world that are deserving of such a word. I hated giving myself shots of Enbrel. Furthermore, I was a smoker, I didn’t eat particularly healthy, and I lived in the moment never planning. Some where in my early 20’s I said enough is enough. I proclaimed that I would not be on prescription drugs for the rest of my life. I was resolute about planning my life. Setting goals, meeting them, and setting more. I landed a good job, and had wonderful new relationships. I forgot about the drugs. I had gone into remission. Confirmed by blood tests of the time. In the years after, I never harped on the past. I told some people about my rheumatoid arthritis, and some denied I ever had it. It made me even question it at times, but ultimately I didn’t care. I was living a life I wanted.

Fast forward a decade

In 2020 the pandemic swept the country. At the time, I had been going to the gym 4 times a week, eating healthy, and had been in a wonderful relationship with my, now, wife Kseniya. For much of the tech sector full time remote work started. I stopped going to the gym, and started worrying about my aging family. The ball of my left foot started get inflamed. I ignored it for a while. Then, I was going to my general doctor for it. He prescribed Naproxen. Fine, I had used it in the past, I know my body responded well to it, and I figurd the pain would go away on it’s own. But the pain never went away. I bought Birkenstocks to wear indoors thinking my foot was always in a shoe, so that’s what it needed. Even though I wasn’t working out much, it was affecting my running. Some days I would wake up with a limp. The pain was always worse in the mornings.

By 2021, my entire situation got worse, and I was not paying attention. A knuckle on my right pointer finger started swelling, was inflamed, and warm. You can see it in the above photo. My left wrist was experiencing sharp pain, and was also inflamed. I started working out more often in our basement gym, but I felt little energy to do it, and when I did work out I had gotten a shoulder impingement that was not healing, sometimes in both shoulders. I tried new routines, moved from free weights to resistance bands as they did not aggravate my wrist as much. Something was off, and again I was not paying attention. I kept on with life as if it would all go away on it’s own.

My wife and I flew to Kazakhstan so I could meet her family, and get to experience the culture she grew up in. I have a strange thing I do when I travel far distances. I fast. I believe it helps with jet lag. This was a long trip. I fasted for 38 hours. About 18 hours into the fast though I realized something. I had a substantial decrease in overall inflammation, but noticed it all over my body. By the time we got to our hotel, I couldn’t believe the change. I couldn’t believe the other pain I was dealing with, that I had not noticed, and how much my energy levels were affected.

I broke two distance running PR’s in Kazakhstan. I got up early, most of the town is asleep, and I’d run through the Central Park of Karaganda. However, one day the ball of my left foot was so swollen, and in such pain, I couldn’t make it down the stairs. My wife’s family are in the medical field. We got to a rheumatoid doctor out there who looked me over, and said I needed to treat this when I got back home. At this point, it was clear I was in denial. I fasted again on the trip back home. The temporary relief was enough to start understanding this was affecting my life more than I realized.

I made an appointment with a rheumatoid arthritis specialist, and was put on infusions. Shortly after, I realized how much physical pain I was really in. As the swelling reduced in my body, my brain also began to clear up. I never realized how mentally fatiguing this disease is. It is draining. Mentally, and physically. As a stubborn human being who still does not want to live his life on prescriptions, I stopped following up with the infusions, and went back to life. This felt like they had stabilized, but they were slowly getting worse.

Enough is enough

I may have an odd resistence, but I am not completely against perscription drugs. I believe they exist to help get the mind, and body into a place where they can get back to their natural state of being. Healthy. At least, that’s my opinion on the subject. As of February 2023, I am getting back on the medications that are help me get my body, and mind back. Yes, there will be adjustments, and precautions that need to be made since I will be immunocompromised.

My reality

I do truly believe I will go back into remission. It will take time, and patience. I also, need to get better talking about pain. Talking about pain in a way where I can convey the truth, calmly, and keeping a positive attitude for the future. This is my first step.