Monthly Archives: December 2018

Pain Makes Me Stupid

I don’t think I realized what a relationship I had with the pain until I was pain free for six days for the first time since 2016. I have had infatuations with emotional pain before, romances with depression, flings with mania. And a former cutter will always have a strange dynamic with physical pain.

After so long, I had just integrated the pain into my daily life. I had just adapted to it. It was unpleasant and I hated it, but it had become the new normal. Steroid shots had given me spotty relief over the years, but those first six days after surgery were the first time I had experienced no hip or hamstring pain since my hip popped out of socket that fateful day. Even if I was immobile and detoxing off anesthesia, it was blissful relief.

It was when I experienced pain again that I was able to see how much it had taken root in my mind, how it had poisoned and deformed the tissue in my brain. Instead of logically thinking that pain is a part of recovery and it is going to pass, I immediately panicked emotionally. My brain descended into a hopeless ramblings about how the surgery did not work, how the pain was back again, how the pain was never going away.

I flinched away from it the way you would recoil from a stove after having been burned.

I know I just had surgery. I know pain to be expected, even if I was spared it initially. I know it is way too early in the recovery process to decide if the surgery was successful or what my body will feel like going forward. I know these things, yet I do not feel them. I feel panic followed by crushing hopeless depression.

I would love to go for a run to clear my mind and bring myself back to sanity, but that might just exacerbate the situation.

Taken from an outside perspective, recovery has been going amazingly well. Once I emerged from the anesthesia haze, I felt great physically. Even now, my pain is less than a tenth of what it was when I checked in for surgery. Last night hurt, but it did not hurt as much and it is passing. If this is improved as I ever get, it would still be improvement.

The brace and the crutches are torture devices. The crutches are supremely inconvenient, mostly in how much they slow me down and how they prevent me from carrying anything. I feel completely useless. But those I could deal with. The brace drives me mad. Sitting in it, sleeping in it. It’s always on me, squeezing me; it’s always constraining and confining me. I want all the things off me. I want to be able to just walk again. But it has already been over a week, so I have less than a week remaining. I can stuff my complaining and make it.

I just hope I remember to appreciate being able to just walk again.

I hope I remember to appreciate every day with my healthy, able body again.

If I can manage to reestablish perspective and deliberately manage my reactions to emotional pain, there is no way I shouldn’t be able to easily translate that to physical pain. It should be easier, but I underestimated the instinctual influence, the way the baser part of my mind takes over when my body hurts.

Onward…

 

Christina Bergling

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Hip Arthroscopy Surgery

Two and a half years after a seemingly innocuous stretch turned into a relentless injury, the corrective surgery is finally done.

It has been a long road. To review, in August of 2016 I was stretching after a dance class. I went easily into the splits; then my hip popped out from its socket. When it did, I would later learn, it tore my hamstring about 20% in the center and also tore my labrum. My hip slipped back into socket that night, but the pain continued.

After a lot of pain and no recovery, I sought the help of a doctor. The pain was so constant and unrelenting that it was affecting my personality, particularly my patience with my children. My doctor referred me to an orthopedic. He was awful. He treated me very condescendingly and dismissively, as if I had stubbed my toe and was being overdramatic. His administration of a plasma injection into my hamstring gave me sexual assault flashbacks.

His treatment did nothing to heal my injury or alleviate my pain, so I moved to a new orthopedic doctor. This doctor I loved. With additional plasma injections, we did finally heal my hamstring, but the pain persisted. A second MRI and steroid injections revealed the remaining issue to be the labral tears in my hip joint. We scheduled surgery about 7 months out based on the best timing for my insane schedule.

Leading up to the surgery was its own rollercoaster. I oscillated between rationalizing to myself that I could live with this level of pain and didn’t need surgery and not thinking I would make it until the surgery. A couple successful steroid injections bridged the months effectively, giving me enough relief to function. However, in the final two weeks prior to the procedure, my pain became horrendously inflamed, back to initial injury levels. It even got worse, driving me from my bed at night for the first time.

By the time I was in the hospital gown tethered to my IV, it was too painful to sit for any length of time. I hadn’t slept in over a week because every position sent spires of pain shooting up from my hip. When the anesthesiologist brought me the consent form, I signed it without even a glance. I was so ready for the situation to change. Surgery might be a painful recovery, but at least it would change the pain from this endless circle to a line that progressed in an actual direction.

From my side, the drugs began to climb into my veins, and the world began to float. When they brought me into the operating room, I saw the large, Y-shaped table on which I would be operated. The anesthesiologist said, “Let’s get hammered.” And I was gone.

I had been prepared for Hell when I woke up. I was warned by a friend, by my doctor, by the nurse, by the anesthesiologist that this was an especially painful procedure, that they would basically pull my hip apart to perform it, that often they struggle to manage the pain afterward. I did not wake up to any of that.

I felt the soreness of my punctured muscles and the tenderness of the sutures, yet that was it. I kept waiting for pain to blossom in my hip joint and flare over my nerves, but compared to all the months before of constant firing, it was alarmingly silent. My exceptionally open hips and extreme flexibility got me into this mess; perhaps it spared me the worst part of the solution. I woke to my customary, post-anesthesia tears yet not even in full sobs like usual, and I could barely keep myself conscious, but that was all.

My husband got me home, and I slept. Even in the restrictive hip brace and the squeezing compression devices, I slept and slept and slept. I made up for not sleeping the previous week. The hip pain never surfaced, but neither did I. The anesthesia stayed threaded through me, holding me down in a choking haze. I rode waves of nausea as pain clenched my head until it felt like it might fracture.

I hated the sensation. I hated the pain, but more I hated the haze in my mind, the way conscious seemed to slip through my fingers like water. So I continued to sleep, lost myself in a blur of twisted dreams and nightmares until I actually surfaced.

All told, a couple days with a blurry mind plus a little headache and nausea and no surgical pain is not a bad surgical recovery at all. Sure, the journey is not over, but this is a decent start.

I went to my surgical follow up. The nurse and doctor were both surprised by my complete lack of pain. The nurse didn’t know what to do with me, and the doctor was pretty pleased. I also went to my first physical therapy appointment. My therapist was equally surprised by my lack of pain and the amount of mobility I have. Instead of working up, it sounds like we will be holding me back to allow it to heal.

At my follow up, the doctor walked me through the procedure and pictures. He considered the surgery very successful. He discovered a surprising amount of inflammation in all parts of the hip joint.

He repaired a larger labral tear than he had anticipated.

I also had bone spurs on both the ball and socket part of my joint, so he shaved and smoothed both of those down.

So, my labral tear has been stitched up and anchored down, and my bone spurs have been removed. From here, everything should be gliding smoothly in there.

My doctor told me it would take 6 weeks to recover from the operation. However, the physical therapist said it is a 12-16 week recovery. I’m glad I didn’t know this beforehand. At this point, the surgery is done, so I will just walk the recovery however long it takes.

I can sit in any position (within the post-surgical guidelines) without pain. I can lay flat without pain. I can stand up in one fluid movement without pain. After over two years, all of that is amazing. I can take that relief and stretch it out into patience for getting back to the rest.

I do hate the brace though. And the crutches. They are so slow and so confining. When I have been fully lucid, I feel trapped and suffocated. But it’s only the first two weeks. I can feel the depression and cabin fever creeping around the edges of my mind. I’m going to curl up on the couch and watch endless horror movies and write blogs and work on my novel. I am going to throw up every sedentary distraction I have against the looming inactivity and boredom. I can do this. I can decide to do this and force my mind into line behind me. I can take control of this from my recovery bed.

So, the surgery happened. I lived, and now, I start my recovery.

 

Christina Bergling

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Unfiltered

My mind is an asshole.

I know this. I have known this since I tried to take my life at age 12. I have stepped up and actually dealt with this since I was 19. And yet, somehow it still manages to surprise me with this truth. Over and over again.

Last Saturday, I experienced one of the worst depressive crashes I have had in years. The degree of depression hearkened back to when I had no idea what was going on in my brain in my late teens or when I was learning how to deal with my bipolar in my early twenties or when I was in Iraq a decade ago.

Years ago, I seemed to figure out how to live with my bipolar, how to balance my life and my mind. It took several therapists, years of experimentation and failure. Finally, with a combination of behavior cognitive processing approaches, an amazing support system, a solid routine, and a high amount of exercise, I seemed to find a way to ride the waves, to level out the sea a bit. It has never been a cure, but it has been pretty effective adaptation.

So effective that I had largely forgot to depths my mind could drop to and what it was like to be raw and unfiltered.

Saturday reminded me. After a night writhing in hip pain on the couch, the depression overwhelmed me from below my exhaustion. It weighed down on me to a heavy and paralytic level I had not experienced in so long. I lay on the couch simply weeping for a couple hours. My husband attempted to counsel me, but I didn’t have words, and I did not want to make eye contact.

My husband has been with me through all stages of this journey. He met me when I was a teenager who was cutting and burning herself. We were friends and casual partners when I was lost and self-destructive. We began our actual relationship after I started dealing with what I am. He was who I came home to after Iraq. He has been with me for half of my life, which has included most of my struggles and traumas. He has seen me that low; he knows the patterns.

He dragged me off the couch, put me in my running clothes, and gently guided me out the front door. Even as I protested that I just didn’t want to through tears. He knew I needed to.

So I ran. Through the crippling pain in my hip and in my head. It took a full mile to be able to make full strides with my leg. It took a second mile to feel like I was actually running. But by the third and fourth miles, I was able to float, to lose myself in the run, to not be in me.

The run helped. It didn’t cure me of the depressive episode; it never does. But it did elevate me out of the dark waters so that I was no longer drowning. I was simply numb. I was still struggling to engage, make eye contact, form thoughts that could be turned into speech. I had zero appetite. Food tasted like sand, but I needed to eat in order to drink a Monster energy drink (my long-time bipolar hack).

The Monster helped. It usually does. It lifted me another level out of the darkness. I could finally interact with people again, which was helpful since I had a baby shower to attend. I was functional enough to help host the party and engage with people, all while being completely honest about how I was feeling and what was happening but without stealing the attention. Interaction with people helped too, helped pull me out of myself.

I made it through the cycle. My husband, running, Monster, and my dear friends substantially abbreviated the episode. But the crash revealed what I was really worried about with my upcoming surgery.

I wasn’t really concerned about the medical procedure or the pain. Sure, those are always worries when going under for surgery. However, the real fear, the true anxiety was the idea of losing my balance, not having access to my crutch. I would survive the surgery. I would get through the pain. My body would heal. The prospect of dealing with my bipolar, my mind unfiltered and unmitigated for six weeks is what truly worried me.

I know that 2-3 days without any exercise cause me to cycle. Nothing like the epic crash of Sunday but depression nonetheless. I know that pain and sickness cause me to cycle. This hip injury has been doing that to me for two and a half years. So the idea of being in pain and unable to reset my brain chemistry was somewhat terrifying.

In the end, I’m not scared of surgery or pain; I’m scared of myself. My crash on Saturday reminded me of what I still am and what I might be facing after surgery.

Logically, I know I’ll be fine. This too shall pass. All of that. However, fearing and avoiding facing the full monster inside me is no different that flinching away from a stove after having been burned before. It’s an instinctual avoidance of pain. Getting a taste of that darkness clarified my anxiety. Yet, as terrible as the sample was, it did pass, and that reminded me that even the lowest depression is only temporary.

I’m sure it will be less than I fear; it usually is. Fear is distortion. I know what I need to deal with on the other side of the anesthesia and am being proactive about redirecting my energy during my recovery.

 

(Note: I could not find the artists for the images in this post. If you are or know the artist, please let me know so I can give proper credit.)

Christina Bergling

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