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Chronic Illness and Pain: It’s the Small Things That Can Cause Despair

spinning plates

Life is like a spinning plate. In normal circumstances, the plate as it spins is balanced and in control. Occasionally, the plate will become overloaded or unbalanced, but with time will balance itself out, and life will continue along with little to no spillage from the plate.

For people battling chronic illness and pain, their spinning plate is dissimilar to that of many people. Thanks to struggles with pervasive illnesses and unrelenting pain, their plates are already full, spinning wobbly, sending the contents of the plate every which way, and, sometimes, propelling the plate into the wall or floor. Daily, small things are added to the plate, causing further imbalance. The plate owner struggles to keep the plate spinning without crashing. Sometimes he succeeds, sometimes he doesn’t. And when he fails, he makes a mess for all to see, often leading to despair.

For me personally, it is the small things in life that often fuel my depression. I can handle big things, and big decisions. It is the small things that pile up on my plate, leading me to deep, dark — at times suicidal — times in my life; moments when I just want to die. Those are times when narcotic pain medications don’t work effectively or eating food of any type makes me sick or leads to vomiting. Last night, I spent the night into the morning hours in the bathroom — sixteen visits in all. Loose bowels and lack of sphincter muscle control . . . shitty bed, shitty clothes, shitty floors, shitty, shitty, shit everywhere. An accumulation of small things that left me in despair, not wanting to live another day. Fortunately, after dropping eight pounds in less than a day, things have returned to normal — whatever the hell “normal” means.

Every day, the small things change, but their effect on my life is the same, threatening to spin my life’s plate out of control. My therapist and I often talk about small things and how they affect my life. The goal, of course, is to lessen the number of small things in my life; to lessen the small things piling up on my plate. That’s easier said than done. When your bowels say shit, you shit. When your stomach says vomit, you vomit. When your legs and spine leave you writhing in pain, you writhe in pain. Contrary to what the positive mental attitude (PMA) prophets might say, some things are beyond our control. There’s little I can do to change how my body responds to food or nerve and joint pain. I can take medications or use mental techniques to redirect my pain, but there are times when nothing I do works. All I know to do is grit my teeth and hold on, hoping that my suffering will lessen. There’s no healing or deliverance on the horizon. All I can do is endure . . . until I no longer can do so.

I wish I had the luxury of sitting back and enjoying life, but when you have chronic health problems, you have no time to waste on the “good life.” I am at the place in life where I have tied a knot at the end of the rope, and I am hanging on for dear life. I love Polly; I love my children and their spouses; I love my grandchildren; I love my siblings. I live for them. I still have writing I want to do; and a book to finish. I still want to get my house in order, so that when the day comes that my plate comes crashing to the floor one last time, Polly won’t be left with a mess. As it stands now, if I died today, my demise would leave the love of my life in a difficult spot. She deserves better, and so do my children and grandchildren.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

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    • Avatar
      Yulya Sevelova

      Same here, Bruce. I’m bummed out that this stuff is happening to you. For lots of people with fibromyalgia, and who take Gabapentin ( like me) it matters who the manufacturer is, because some of these factories make lousy meds. I found this out with Camber, I noticed it felt like I was losing ground, like taking placebos. I went to the pharmacy,and told them I’m not taking anything they( Camber) make,check before bagging those bottles. I looked up reviews of this company, and lots of unhappy customers. Now, it’s a matter of leaving the big drug stores, because their vendor only brings Camber brand pills lately. So sometimes it’s a too- much filler vs. medication amount. It’s difficult and a pain to have to stop and do a search for alternate pharmacies. Quite stressful and irritating,Big Pharma! I hope this flare up calms down soon. Good sleep means everything.

      • Avatar

        Yulya I took gabapentin a few times and never noticed variability till reading your post. The stuff worked well for nerve pain of ischemia years ago and recently shingles. What I noticed years ago was withdrawal symptoms when I quit. I had to taper off of it. When I used it for shingles I had no withdrawals. That suggests something different in the medicine from one time to the other.

        • Avatar
          Yulya Sevelova

          Yep, that Big Pharma thing. I found that it pays to know who the manufacturer is, because meds are so needed, and interruptions in supplies, because of some hinky corporate decision, can throw a person’s life off in major ways. The same goes for antibiotics, those hard pills won’t work, they’ll wind up in the sewer. Shots are better and faster, when it comes to infections. As I had to find out the hard way,lol.

  1. Avatar
    Jeff Bishop

    Hello Bruce.

    I would like to offer solace to you for the devastating physical conditions you are suffering from and have shared with your audience. Your issues are scary to comprehend.

    Being almost 65 and suffering from type 2 diabetes, a heart condition and lower back pain, my issues pale in comparison to yours.

    What my issues do confirm is my gratitude to be able to continue to work, walk my dog (A beautiful Keshond) and still have some semblance of mobility and activeness.

    Please know that your site and the information you provide offers a ray of light regarding the “TRUTH” of modern day religiosity. While I will not be dishonest and tell you that you “woke” me to the truth, I find great comfort that persons like yourself may be deconverted and brought to a secular understanding of the world we live in.

    Sadly, as I get older, I find myself growing increasingly more frustrated with the relationship between church and state. I once naively thought the church (any denomination) was a place communities could gather, enjoy each other, provide lessons of morality and charachter.

    Boy was I stupid. Now I see a cultish bunch of fanatics bent on political and cultural domination and the destruction of secular thought. I am no “lover” of Democrats because I hold them hugely responsible and in leauge with the capatalists bent on the destruction of the environment for the sake of gratuitous consumption and wealth accumulation at the cost of all things.

    Having said that, as I gaze at the GIGANTIC hypocrisy of Catholic and Protestant institutions that are embracing GOP and more specifically the facist MAGA movement, for me, it’s a choice between bad (Democrats) and catastrophe, (GOP).

    Sadly I find myself falling deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of extreme narcissism about our species as a whole. I thought the age of enlightment had catapulted our species out of the age of superstition and despair.
    Apparantly I underestimated the power of superstiton and ignorance.

    Yours is a beacon of light against that ignorance. I trust you will keep shining your spotlight as long as you may. I certainly appreciate it.

  2. Avatar
    Rebecca Wiren

    I’m so sorry, Bruce. I actually think you’re brave. I’m staring down the near future where my husband is gone too soon. (Stage 4 cancer.) At this point? To hell with messes in the home. (We definitely have that!) You have a large loving family that would be there for Polly. It’s okay to let that worry go. (I know I’m saying this, but my husband is still talking about if he feels good enough there’s chores to do!)

    Anyway, you’re doing so much and have helped many people.

    • Avatar
      MJ Lisbeth

      Bruce, you say that Polly deserves better. So do you. Each of you, individually and together, have endured so much. I wish I could ease your suffering.

      Life may not be fair. But, through everything, you love, and are loved by, people who have never met you as well as the people closest to you . Not everyone can say that.

  3. Avatar
    Barbara L. Jackson

    Your medical problems are much greater than mine. You and Polly have my love and sympathy. It helps me to say what my problems are. First of all my husband must take care of me. I have carpal tunnel in both wrists and it limits how much I can do. I also have developed a right hip which needs to be replaced. Now walking is difficult. It also makes my wrists painful when using my hiking poles. I also have epilepsy which is somewhat controlled by a Neuropace chip. Now I have found out that I cannot use any decongestants (even sudafed). This was found out by my neuropace.

    Thank you for letting me write.

  4. Avatar

    Bruce I empathize, especially when you graphically describe experiences I am having. I’m also tired of the grind but I’m compelled to resolve as many problems and wrap up as much unfinished business as I can before checking out. My life is still entertaining and I’m not tired of living but being past my expiration date means my future is inevitably short at most. Awareness that no one my age gets better makes enduring difficult moments a challenge. While unfinished business may be what keeps me alive, another way to look at it is unfinished business keeps me from ending it.

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    We are all so sorry for your pain, Bruce. It sounds so rough. Please know that we all care about you and are thinking about you. Wishing you the best.

    • Avatar
      Yulya Sevelova

      Give it up, get cable TV service, and resign yourself to basement existence. You aren’t going to be allowed to post here like you once did. Haven’t you figured this out yet??

  6. Avatar
    Karuna Gal

    Have any of you seen this wonderful play/movie called “Da”? It’s about an Irishman named Charlie, who comes back to Ireland after his adoptive father dies. Charlie’s mentor, Drumm, says something that has stayed with me ever since I saw it. I don’t remember the exact words, but basically Drumm says many people are hard and have no empathy for others who are suffering. But there are those who suffer and because of that they grow in understanding and become more compassionate and helpful because they “feel pain.” Bruce has that compassion because of his experiences, and we have all benefitted.

    • Avatar
      Yulya Sevelova

      Speaking of which, I wanted to wish you both, Bruce ,and Polly,and your family a nice , pleasant holiday weekend. All that Midwestern- style cooking ! As well as everyone else in this blogosphere, stay safe and enjoy this holiday weekend,too.

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