by Carolyn Noel, Webmaster, PAINS Project

Disclaimer: This is a “do as I say and not as I do” blog.

April 23rd marks the 16th anniversary of the car accident that changed my life. You would think that after sixteen years of living with pain, I would have this all figured out. I think one of the biggest challenges is to realize that I don’t know it all and, especially, that I can’t do it all.

As a Marine, “can’t” is not in my vocabulary—which is a particular challenge for someone living with chronic pain.

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been stretched to the limit. I am usually quite good at pacing myself so that I can maximize the most out of my limited resources of time and energy and keep my pain at a steady level. Most days I wake up at around 5-to-6 on the pain scale and can make it through to the end of the day at around 6-to-7. Not so for the last couple of months. I’ve been starting the day at a 7-to-8 and reaching 9 by lunchtime and just struggling to get through the day.

Sleep, Weather and Pain

In looking for the cause, I noticed a few factors that have added to the challenge. First, there was the time change. Those of you who live with chronic pain know that sleep is a precious commodity. For the last sixteen years, I haven’t slept for more than four hours in a row—and that is on a good night. I usually lay there for around 6-7 hours, but sleep is always elusive. Losing an hour of sleep certainly doesn’t help.

According to a recent article on CNN, Why daylight saving time can be bad for your health, losing sleep can “significantly raise the risk of health-related issues.” The article mentions an increase in stroke, heart attacks and injuries. I searched for a study of the effects of the time change on chronic pain and couldn’t find anything specific, but my body is telling me there’s a connection.

The second factor that seems to be causing more issues of late is the weather. One day, it’s 80 degrees and sunny and I’m turning on the air conditioner and the next day it’s 60 degrees—with an evening low of 40 and I’m turning on the heat. I feel like I’ve been beaten up. For years, I have read studies that concluded that changes in the weather do not affect chronic pain—and for years I scoffed because my body certainly seemed to be impacted.

Then, in 2016, I read an article from Pain News Network entitled, Study Finds Link Between Weather and Chronic Pain. If I could have jumped up and down, I would have. Finally….an answer that validated by experience!

Not so fast.

On January 10, 2017, Science Daily published, Weather’s not to blame for your aches and pains, reporting on research from The George Institute for Global Health which says “the weather plays no part in the symptoms associated with either back pain or osteoarthritis.”

Who am I to believe? What can I do to minimize the affect that these dramatic weather changes seem to have on my pain levels?

Time to Change…Myself

I concluded that I can neither create more hours in the day for sleep nor can I control the weather.

The only thing I can control, the third factor affecting my “normal” pain levels, is me.

On top of losing that hour last month for the time change, I’ve had several work-related emergencies which required some long work days—including one stint of 36 hours straight (I know…you don’t have to say it)—so I can’t blame it all on Ben Franklin. I’ve been pushing and pushing for several months—well past my breaking point. I shouldn’t be surprised that I have limits.

I’ve decided that the only solution is to restructure my pacing. After 16 years, it’s definitely time for an adjustment. I’m not getting any younger. In fact, on my last birthday, an 11-year-old came up to me all excited because I was now “50-something” instead of just “50.” My 35-year-old body that was so devastated by injury and chronic pain is now 16 years older and, like anyone else, those years take a toll.

I’ve been proud of myself that I found ways to manage my pain when my doctors told me there was nothing more that they could do and I would just be stuck in a wheelchair the rest of my life. It’s time for an overhaul in my treatment plan and an honest look at my limitations.

Stay tuned. I’ll report back on my new plan.

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