Having a Period While Living With Chronic Pain

I’ve been contemplating writing about this issue for a while, and finally decided to just do it because I have yet to see anything written or discussed about it anywhere. It’s an issue I assume that countless women who fall within the reproductive age demographic and live with chronic pain and/or other chronic illnesses struggle through regularly.

I’ve always had difficult menstrual cycles, or what is more commonly called monthly periods. Since the first one arrived when I was in my early teens, it’s been a painful monthly – or near monthly – reminder of my femininity and reproductive health. Each period I’ve had has been accompanied by excruciating pelvic/uterine cramps, back pain, nausea, heavy bleeding, fatigue – and more often than I’d care to remember – debilitating migraines. Over the years, I’ve even had multiple investigative surgeries to look for potential causes and to rule out the possibility that I might have endometriosis, which I don’t have. Alas, each surgery has resulted in no explanations for why I’ve lived with this degree of period pain (dysmenorrhea) since entering womanhood.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve adopted a glass half full approach to the way I look at this situation: I take comfort in the knowledge that each of these monthly episodes means I’m one month closer to menopause. The phase of my life when I‘ll no longer have to live with the anxious anticipation of the arrival of my period or suffer through its painful symptoms. Nonetheless, from my current vantage point, menopause seems to be farther away than I’d like it to be.

More unfortunate, is that since I’ve been living with daily, nonstop chronic pelvic pain and leg pain, I’ve also been battling with the added monthly pain caused by my periods. The worst thing about this is that I feel each of these intense pains separately. That makes it even harder to cope or do basic daily activities during the time that I have my period.

For the duration of each of my periods (usually 7 days, sometimes longer), it feels like an extra layer of piercing pain is thrown on top of my unrelenting chronic pain and it makes my pelvis – and every organ in it – feel as if it’s being squeezed in a vise . Strangely, I feel the pain from my periods strongest within the same area where I had surgery to remove the growth that triggered the illness I now live with. However, since that growth is no longer sitting in my pelvis, the increased pain during my period makes no sense, at least not to me. Worse still, is that the copious amount of opioid pain medications I take daily to manage my chronic pain do nothing to relieve my period pain(s).

As I struggle with this agony each menstrual cycle, as I am now, I wonder how other women living with chronic illnesses and/or chronic pain cope if they also have painful periods. How do they go about living their lives when they have to endure extreme menstrual symptoms – including crippling pelvic cramps – combined with other incessant symptoms and pain(s) from a chronic illness that may affect multiple areas of their bodies? How do they cope with the bombardment of pain in multiple areas of their bodies for days on end, when pain in just one part of the body can make one feel as if they might lose their mind? Moreover, since women have lived with painful periods for as long as we’ve had periods, why aren’t there more definitive solutions – medical or otherwise – for treating menstrual symptoms and pain?

This may sound like a rant to some people but these are legitimate questions when one lives with these types of pain. Why do women have to suffer like this continually and why should we have to endure painful periods on top of a chronic illness or already debilitating chronic pain? When will modern medicine develop something that stops us from suffering this way each month of our lives when we mature to reproductive age?

I’m hoping this post sparks some discussion and encourages women to share what helps them cope with painful periods. Aside from curling up in the fetal position and begging the universe to make the pain go away, I wouldn’t mind hearing some useful ideas to help get me through these periods with less extra pain…

 

Monica – Don’t Take It Personal (Just One Of Dem Days)

 

 

Note: There’s some interesting sharing about this post happening on my Instagram page .

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No Fire In My Legs

I’ve written often about the pain in my legs feeling like fire when it gets unbearably intense. Today the pain feels manageable, but I’m excited to share about another kind of fire. For the first time in my life –   without anyone’s help – I successfully lit a fire in a wood fireplace. That may seem like no big deal for a person who lives in a house with a wood fireplace or anyone who goes camping regularly; but I’m a city girl who never goes camping and only ever has to flip a switch to light a gas fireplace.

I won’t lie, it took quite a few tries to get the kindling to stay lit until it became a fully crackling fire. When the flames finally started shooting, I felt a great sense of accomplishment.

Interestingly, I’m away from home and before leaving on my trip I was stressed about the very real possibility of experiencing a fiery pain flare up. Nevertheless, here I am today, after traveling thousands of miles and for the first time in a long time, the fire I’m feeling is exactly where it should be…

 

Alicia Keys – Girl On Fire

 

Hobbling Across the Pond

Last winter, I took a trip. As much as it was a trip to get away from the frigid cold in the middle of winter to enjoy some tropical sunshine, sandy beaches, and saltwater; it was also a trip to test how well I can handle long-distance travel by air with my ongoing health issues. Overall, I handled it fairly well, so I’m taking another trip.

Even though things went well last year, I’m still somewhat anxious about getting on a plane again. This flight will be eight hours long, which is double the length of the last one; and I will travel 5,700 kilometres (3,550 miles) and cross five time zones over the Atlantic Ocean. Until I land and adjust to the time difference, I don’t think I’ll be able to assess the extent to which I’m affected. During the flight I took last year, my pain wasn’t significantly aggravated, but sitting in an airplane seat for eight hours this time, while feeling intense pain might be different. Add to that the fact that I’ve always been a bit of a nervous flyer and I have to admit that I’m not really looking forward to getting up in the air again.

However, my anxiety doesn’t end with the thought of getting on the plane and sitting through an eight-hour flight. I’m also anxious because I’ll be so far away from home, my doctors, and everything else familiar. During this trip, I’ll be staying with friends I haven’t seen since my last trip across the pond about six years ago. Although my friends are aware that I’m ill, they haven’t seen how the pain and accompanying side effects affect my daily life. I’m already worried about how I’ll cope and how they might react if – or more likely when – I have a pain flare up while I’m staying with them.

I know I shouldn’t expend the energy worrying about “what ifs?” but it’s hard after living with constant pain for this long and knowing that a flare up is never far off. It’s also hard not to worry about how others will react when they see you for the first time struggling to walk or unable to move at all because of pain. It’s hard not to worry about how greatly affected I’ll be by jet lag, especially because I already have a lot of difficulty with sleep and I never sleep well on planes.

It’s hard not to worry about how I’ll cope traveling around a city where public transit is widely used, when I’ve avoided using public transit where I live since becoming ill: how will I handle the sudden stops and starts of the trains or not being able to find a free seat while traveling on one? It’s hard not to worry about how I’ll explain needing to rest for a few days after going out for just a few hours. There are a lot more things I’m worried I’ll have to deal with and explain, but I suppose I’ll cross those bridges when I get to them.

Nevertheless, before I even get to the other side of the pond, there are some things I did in preparation for last year’s trip that I will repeat for this one. The main thing I did last year that was extremely helpful was arranging assistance to get to and from the plane. When I get to the airport, the airline will arrange for someone to take me from the check in counter to the boarding gate by wheelchair and/or golf cart. Then when passengers start to board the plane, I will be among the first to board with assistance from the flight crew. When I arrive at my destination, the same process will happen again. There will be someone waiting for me with a wheelchair when I leave the plane who will help me through customs to the baggage carousel and they will also help me collect my suitcase. Doing this last year helped me conserve a lot of energy and probably went a long way to ensuring that I got off to a relatively good start on my trip.

Knowing that I will have this assistance at the airports goes a long way to help me maintain peace of mind. However, I’m still anxious about the laundry list of things that need to be done before I even get there…

 

Chantal Kreviazuk – Leaving On A Jet Plane