Fuck You, Pain

So, those of you that follow me here or on Twitter know I’ve been going through some stuff. Short version: I’ve dealt with some significant back pain for the last 8 years. I had surgery to remove part of a bulging disc in 2006, and the pain got better. Not gone, but better. I still had days that were rough, but was functional again.

Fast forward to fall 2010. The pain started getting pretty bad again. It got to the point that I basically lived on an air mattress in our tiny apartment’s living room. After working with a pain management specialist and trying just about everything, it was determined that I needed another surgery, a fusion at L4-L5.

The recovery from that surgery was particularly rough, but I survived and the pain got better for a time. Still not 100% gone, but completely tolerable. I figured this was about as good as things would get. Sadly, it didn’t stay that way.

Starting in July 2012, the pain came back with a fucking vengeance. It hurt to walk, stand, sit, lay down, you name it. The surgeon ran a bunch of tests, only to decide he didn’t see anything wrong, and that I should take it easy and hope things got better. They didn’t.

Since then, I’ve been fighting severe pain off and on. I would have a few good days, or even a week, but invariably, the pain returned. Pain medication became an almost daily part of my life. I started having to use a cane just to get around, even for short trips. I did my best to bite the bullet and still go do things despite the pain, but most of the time I’d have to bail early.

I was able to make it to SXSWi this past March, thanks to shear determination and copious amounts of pain medication. I basically tried to take the free cars or shuttles around as much as possible, and stay in the same general area for a while each time. Anyway, post south-by, the pain just wouldn’t go away. I remember mrs. hawk and I took a trip to see some family, but I ended up spending the majority of that trip in the hotel room. If I did go do anything, I’d have to cut it short to go lay down in the car.

For the first time in all my battles with pain, I started feeling suicidal. The pain was just too much, and I couldn’t handle it anymore. I remember laying on the hotel bed in agony, and starting to look around the room to find something to end the pain with. I didn’t actually go through with anything, but it was a thought that wouldn’t go away.

I talked to mrs. hawk, my therapist, and a couple of close friends, since that felt like something I shouldn’t keep to myself. Everyone was concerned and super supportive, which helped. Unfortunately, neither the thoughts or pain would go away.

It got to the point that I remember one day the pain was particularly bad, I was standing in the work kitchen holding the one kitchen knife we have, contemplating the most effective ways to use it to end things. I ran my thumb over the blade, only to discover it wasn’t sharp enough to do anything. At that point, I put the blade down and went back to my desk and just kinda broke down. I didn’t tell anyone about that incident until a few days later, as I felt ashamed I had gotten to that point.

After discussing it with my therapist and wife, I decided I needed more help staying safe, and agreed to go inpatient at a metal hospital. As terrifying a prospect as that seemed, I knew it was the right decision.

The time at the hospital was weird, but very helpful. For the first time in years, I didn’t have any personal electronics with me. No phone, no computer, no kindle, no iPad, no anything. I felt disconnected to the outside world which, in a way, was a good thing. The doctors there worked with me on medication and coping strategies, and I left a week or so later.

While the pain got a bit better for a few days there, it’s all come crashing back down on me. Most days, it’s a struggle just to force myself to go to work and sit upright for 8 hours. By the end of the day, I’m just a ball of pain. Some days, like today, the pain is almost unbearable from the time I wake up through the rest of the day. Lemme tell you, nothing quite so distracting as pain on a 7-8 out 10 scale.

I’m not really sure why I’m sharing all this, other than to just let folks know where I’m at and why I may seem more on edge some days, or seem fragile and whiny. I do my best to push through and deal with things on my own, but sometimes that’s just too hard, and it bleeds over into the rest of my life.

If anyone reading this is going through the same type of thing, just know, you’re not alone. By no means am I saying the pain is over, or the suicidal thoughts are gone, but I can say I’m fighting both of those as best I can, and I hope you can do the same.

Fictional Therapy

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a longstanding love affair obsession with the written word. My mom tells stories of 4 year old grumpyhawk annoying the crap out of my Pre-Kindergarten teachers because, while they were try to teach the other students how to sound out and read words, I was talking about sentences and wanting to read books. Even as a young kid, trips to the local library were one of my favorite things. I got older, and my health took a turn for the worse.

I was diagnosed with Type I diabetes right as I turned 13. On top of that, I had a long stretch of time where I just couldn’t seem to function on a daily basis. Getting out of bed was a monumental accomplishment, and trips outside left me drained. Doctors eventually diagnosed it as chronic fatigue, but that was mostly because they didn’t really know what was going on (fun, right?). Still, those weekly trips to the library were the highlight of my week, and one of the few things that forced me to get out of the house for an hour or so. I’d walk in, make a beeline for the new release science fiction section, and basically grab any book that hadn’t been there the last time, regardless of author or sub-genre.

Reading an amazing book became an escape for me. When I wasn’t fighting with my pancreas or overcome with exhaustion, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Jeff Noon, Bruce Sterling and many more helped get me through. I know it’s cliché, but a well written book is something you can close your eyes and almost see. For at least a little while, I could forget all the health issues and problems they cause, and just experience another world.

On top of the escape, I was exposed to new concepts in almost every book; transhumanism, robotics, computer programming, biology, chemistry, virtual reality; the list goes on and on. Many times, I’d read some idea and, in an effort to understand it better, look it up at the library the next time I was there (this was before the Internet was really a thing, kids, and you had to go to the library for things like that). Eventually, the chronic fatigue thing subsided, and I was able to join the outside world again. No matter how hectic things got, though, one thing never changed; I was always in the middle of reading at least one book.

Unfortunately, my health really isn’t that much better now. My pancreas still hates me, and I’ve got some major back issues (including multiple surgeries to try and fix the problem.) To this day, a good book is still an escape for me; almost a form of therapy. For at least a few hours here and there, my overactive brain can be somewhere else and not focused on the pain I am almost certainly experiencing, or fretting over my diabetes being messed up for some reason. I will eternally be grateful to my parents for instilling that love of reading in me at a very early age, and fostering it in me as I grew up.