Posted in Journal, Conversation, Op-Ed

Morphing Into the Mad Queen: Pain Can Make You Crazy

Photo by Gabriel Matula 

I want to let you in on a little secret. Pain can make you crazy. I’m not talking about a journey into irreversible insanity, Mad Queen-style, although, I’m sure that’s possible. What I’m talking about is temporarily losing your filter (and maybe just a little bit of your mind.)

I’ll never forget a conversation a friend and I were having years ago regarding suicide. An acquaintance of hers had ended his life after an accident had left him in a bad way. We didn’t know any particulars. My friend said that his actions were incomprehensible to her. “He still had his brain,” she said. “He still could have had a productive life.”

Well, maybe, maybe not. I am certainly not advocating for suicide. But I am advocating for understanding and non judgment. For after living with chronic pain for nearly two decades, I can tell you something with absolute no nonsense certainty: Pain can make you Crazy. It can also make you Stupid, Overly-emotional, Over-reactive, Unreasonable, Irrational, Unfriendly, Non-responsive, Forgetful, Irresponsible, and a Host of Equally Undesirable Traits that I cannot at this moment easily recall. So, yes, you may still have your brain, but all too often, it’s certainly not serving you at its best and fullest capacity.

I would generally describe myself as a polite, kind and gracious woman. A bit of a Southern belle with spark. But after I’ve been battling non-stop pain for hours or days, look out Sister! I can be ultra snarky, irrational and downright mean.

My God, I don’t mean to be. Almost instantly after I’ve lost my cool, I’m desperately sorry that I’ve hurt your feelings. And I promise you that hours after you’ve finally gotten over it, (and in some cases, months after you’ve long forgotten it) I’m still beating myself up for being such an ass, because I know that I’ve hurt you. But I’ve been hanging on for dear life for so long, that sometimes, I just erupt, and you, Poor Thing, just happen to be in the way.

This has been a particular challenge for me on this journey. For I have lost two irreplaceable friendships because of this. Both times, I erupted at an undeserving (of my rant) friend. Both times, I was in extreme pain and heavily medicated, yes, but that’s no excuse. (I’m often in extreme pain and heavily medicated and you’d never know about either one!) But seriously. As much as I may want to use that as an excuse, I must own my behavior. It was not fair to these dear friends and I will always feel regret over their loss. To his day, the emptiness their absence has caused in my life still haunts me.

At times, I have lashed out at loved ones in times of stress. Of course we all do this. After all, we’re human. But for those of us with chronic and invisible illnesses, those on the other end of our tantrums are often taken unawares. One minute we seem (and look) perfectly normal. The next minute, we’re riding our broomstick and about to summon the flying monkeys.

I try to temper my moods by staying in balance (another topic, another day), but it’s not always easy and it doesn’t always work. My husband, forever after known as My Guy or MG, knows now that if I’m in trauma (out of control pain), he doesn’t bring up certain topics for discussion. He knows he’s not going to get a rational, well thought out response as he normally would but an emotional one that probably won’t hold much water.

My Guy has been on the receiving end of a tirade because he brought me the wrong beverage. Onlookers would be thinking what an absolute Bitch I am for treating My <poor long suffering> Guy to such irrationality. After all, when I asked for the (okay, different) beverage, he went and got (okay, the wrong one) and didn’t respond with, “Go get it yourself! What? Your back broken?” Well, now that you mention it… What MG thankfully understands (and the onlookers couldn’t) is that the beverage, wrong or not, has nothing to do with the tirade. The beverage is just the proverbial last piece of unbearable straw for this poor camel’s broken back.

Thank God, My Guy and most of the people in my life who have borne witness to these instances have accepted my apologies and understand my situation. One of the most brilliant and aware things My Guy will do in moments such as these is ask, “Is that Jayne speaking or is that The Pain speaking?”

Whoa! I can then generally stop myself, take a step back and review what I’ve just unintentionally said or done. Nine times out of ten, this brings me back into focus and instead of blindly reacting, I can separate myself from the pain and really think about my response.

Here’s a brief aside in understanding those of us in chronic pain: because the pain is always with us, the only way to stay sane is to try and ignore it. Sometimes that doesn’t serve us well, though. All too often, when we are attempting to ignore the pain, we’ll spend too much time pursuing an activity that exceeded it’s comfort zone 30 minutes ago, or we’ll get so caught up in a conversation / movie / book that we don’t realize the pain has suddenly escalated from a manageable 6 to a screaming 9. Now, it has nothing to do with what you are doing or saying. In our head, we’re in Panic Mode, trying to keep ourselves from falling off the Precipice. Sometimes we can tell you what’s happening, “Wait! Hold that thought. I need a pain pill / ice pack /heating pad / my mommy.” Other times, those unfortunate times, we and our pain have fused into one and we’re the ultimate Crab Ass.

Thank God, I have had the strength to search out remedies to manage these moods when the pain becomes intolerable. And most of the time, I can do so very well. Sometimes, I just may be short during a conversation. I’m really not tracking what you’re saying very well, but responding thoughtfully and giving you my full attention is just not possible at the moment. I may not even realize what’s happening. It would be such an easy solution to say, “Time Out!” and have everyone understand what that meant, me included. Unfortunately, the snark has reached my brain before the over-saturation of pain has and I’ve just introduced you to my non-desirable side instead of excusing myself five minutes ago and locking myself in the closet.

For those of you who have been on the receiving end of my pain and still love and accept me, I thank God for you from the bottom of my being. For those of you who are in the Undecided Category, please accept my sincerest apologies and give me another (an another) chance. And for those of you whom I have pushed away, please know that you will forever be in my heart, that I miss you desperately, but I understand your need to remove yourself from my life. Should you ever wish to return, my door is open and you are welcome to enter.