Living with Unrelenting Chronic Pain: Just Another Day in Paradise

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I begin each day with pain. No matter how much medication I take, pain, from the bottom of my feet to the top of my head, is ever with me. There’s never a day when pain is not front and center, demanding attention. Afternoon turns to evening. Hopefully, I have felt strong enough to sit down in my office and write a few words for this blog. As I type this post, my hands remind me that osteoarthritis is my ever-present “friend.” Someday, I will push the keyboard away and say to the pain, “you win.” Not today, but no promise that tomorrow won’t be the end of my run. I fear what happens to me when I quit; when I say, “I have had enough.”

By the time the clock says 10:00 pm in the eastern time zone, my body says, “enough! I shan’t go any farther!” Two decades of struggling with fibromyalgia have taught me to recognize when it’s time to surrender for the day. “Wave the white flag, Bruce, and live for another day,” I tell myself. As I slump into my recliner, turn on Pardon the Interruption, and adjust the sound, tears come to my eyes. “Why live another day, knowing that tomorrow will be no different from today?” No matter how much I try to think happy thoughts and “put mind over matter,” reality reminds me that it is a bitch, a taskmaster with no concern for my suffering and pain. “Tough shit, Bruce. This is your life, deal with it.”

I hear the front door open. It’s Polly coming home from work. The clock strikes 2:30 am. We trade pleasantries, ask questions of one another, eat a snack, and finish the day off with The Daily Show. Now it’s time for the final act of the day, bedtime. I drag my pained, fatigued body to my side of the bed, plug my iPad into the wall charger, put on my Bluetooth headphones, and run one of the video streaming apps — usually Hulu. Of late, I am re-watching the Los Angeles police drama Southland. Polly touches me gently on my back and says, “good night.” I reply, “I love you.” Polly will quickly fall to sleep, but not me. Sleep for me will not come until pain and sleep medications do their work — that is, IF they do their work. Some nights, this process takes an hour. Other nights, it takes two, maybe three hours for sleep to win the victory.

And then, I do this all over again. There’s never a day without pain and fatigue. Never. I am not sure my family and friends understand this. Oh, they try, but for people who have not lived with never-ending, unrelenting chronic pain, there’s no frame of reference for them. How can someone “understand” that which they have not experienced? I photographed a local high school basketball game tonight — the first game of the season. As I entered the building, a school official said to me (and Bethany), “how are you folks doing tonight?” His voice rang with happiness and enthusiasm. He was what I call “chipper.” Before I could “think” of how I wanted to answer him, I blurted out, “do you really want to know?” His face told me that he was not expecting THAT answer. I quickly rescued him from the uncomfortableness of the moment. “Let me give you the standard human answer, “I’m fine. I am always fine!” And with that, I made my way to the gymnasium. Of course, I am not “fine.” I am sure some of you might be thinking, “Bruce, if you are not “fine,” why did you shoot the basketball game? “Why not stay home, rest, and take it easy?” Truth be told, it doesn’t matter where I am or what I do, I can’t escape the pain. Might as well try to do something I love to do than sit around and lose a few more brain cells watching TV. I know of only two “solutions” for my pain: death or pharmaceutical fog, neither of which I am willing to entertain. At least not today, anyway.

Knowing that the pain will never go away does give me a sense of certainty. I can’t escape the pain. All I can do is to choose what to do and where to go. Well-meaning people will say to me, “Bruce, I saw you at the store today. You must be feeling better!” “No, I am not feeling better. I feel like shit. My body feels like it has been hit by a truck — twice,” I have said to no one, ever. Instead, I pretend the well-wisher is oh-so perceptive. That’s the nature of the chronic pain game. Better to live a lie than burden (and bore) people with the truth. Rare is the person who really wants to know and understand how you are feeling. And that’s okay. I really don’t want to know about your hemorrhoids either.

Tomorrow begins the holiday season for the Gerencser family. Polly, along with our daughters, daughters-in-law, and granddaughters, will gather at our home to make pies — pumpkin, cherry, apple, and pecan — for Thanksgiving. If anything can temper my pain, it’s food, family, and football. If anything can give me a reason to punch the time clock for another day, it’s Polly, my children, and grandchildren. For them, I’m thankful.

Addendum:

The girls popped the first four pumpkins pies in the oven today and started cooking them. Fifteen minutes into the process, the power went out! We were without electricity for eight hours. We’ve had high winds today, and this led to an outage. Pie day was moved to our youngest daughter’s home. Just another story to add to Gerencser family Thanksgiving lore.

I hope you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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7 Comments

  1. Becky Wiren

    I hear you about the pain. My meds bring it down so that during the day, it isn’t quite as bothersome. But then I’m usually at a very low energy state. And I get the thing about sleeping with pain. Oh yes.

    I’m glad you do have family and that they love you. I hope seeing your loved ones, especially grandkids, helps you to forget about being in pain. Also a wish that you continue to find things that make you happy and help you ignore the pain. Peace.

    Reply
  2. Zoe

    I see you and I hear you and on my own level, I understand you. <3

    Reply
  3. Scott

    Happy Thanksgiving Bruce and Family and all!

    Bruce, thank you keeping up the struggle. I’m thankfully not in chronic pain, but know enough people to not say stupid comments and pretend I know anything about what they are going through. They way the human body has these issues should be proof enough of the non-existence of deities.

    Enjoy the time as best as you can.

    Reply
  4. ObstacleChick

    Bruce, you are right, no one can understand. We can try to be sympathetic and empathetic, but we can’t fully understand. We care though. Hope you have a nice holiday and enjoy that food and football!

    Reply
  5. MJ Lisbeth

    Bruce, I am thankful for finding your blog. I hope you, Polly and the rest of your family have a joyous and fulfilling day!

    P.S. Could you save a slice of cherry pie for me? And pecan?😉

    Reply
  6. Dave

    I have worked in the field of health care for years and have witnessed more pain than I can describe. My heart goes out to those people who cannot escape their pain. If I had to pick one reason I could no longer accept the premise of a loving and caring god it would be this issue. If I were an omnipotent being my first act would be to eliminate pain. I am familiar with all of the rationalizations and justifications offered by Christians around this issue and none of them hold water. I wish you well, Bruce.

    Reply
  7. Caroline

    I too am sorry you live with constant pain. I’ve known a few people with the same issues, and it really shocked me how much it interfered with how they lived their lives. I’m lucky to not have had to deal with any major health issues (yet), and feel grateful every day for that.

    Hoping you had an awesome holiday with your family.

    I’ve learned a lot of things from reading your blog. Thanks for making the effort even when you feel lousy.

    Reply

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