Multiple repeated images of a body outline showing the different places people deal with MS pain.

The Pain Outburst Cycle

“In the face of pain there are no heroes" - Winston Smith from George Orwell’s 1984. If you suffer from chronic pain, like the kind that can be caused by multiple sclerosis, this quote will likely strike a chord with you. When you live in pain, no matter how strong you are, no matter how “used to” it you are, there comes a time when it’s too much.

When pain takes over

Pain can overpower us when we least expect it. What was bearable can become unbearable in an instant. Too much pain for too long can lead to behavior that may make us feel poorly about ourselves. It can make the strongest among us have outbursts that might indicate that we’ve broken, only to eventually collect ourselves and carry on with our lives. Those that see this cycle of pain outbursts might be a bit confused by it, but allow me to elaborate.

What does MS pain feel like?

For many people who live with MS, pain is a way of life. It could be spasms, numbness, tightness, feel like electric shocks, or a severe burning sensation. It can hurt to be touched, or it can be a constrictive pressure like the MS hug. I could go on, but I think you get the picture: MS has a lot of ways to inflict pain on a person. The kind of severe and chronic pain that can come with MS is enough to change a person. It can be unrelenting and yet still surprising. Being in pain all the time is also really exhausting because it takes a lot to put up with it so often and for so long.

Lashing out

I wake up many days and it feels like my legs are on fire from the inside out. Most of the time, I grin and bear it; it’s part of my life and has been for quite some time. Overall, I’m proud of how I deal with it. However, I have some moments where it’s suddenly too much. It’s not that it has worsened, but the weight of living this way for such a long period of time weighs on me. The pain becomes too much and I lash out.

Maybe I make an angry or vague Facebook post, or maybe I act angry and even yell at a friend or family member (usually, I’m not yelling about my pain, but about anything and everything but it). Sometimes I’ll throw something. Once, I even put my fist through a wall. Most of the time, I end up saying things I don’t really mean. All of that is me lashing out because of my pain. I think chronic and severe pain can make you do things you don’t want to do - just as it did Winston Smith in 1984. It doesn’t matter how tough you are or how well you deal with your pain on a daily basis. In the end, the pain will eventually win. On a long enough and severe enough timeline of pain, there are no heroes. Everyone has a breaking point.

The shame that follows the lash outs

After those moments when the pain breaks you and you lash out, you go back to normal. You aren’t better, your pain hasn’t lessened, but you go back to dealing with it. You put that brave face back on, maybe fake a smile, and act like it doesn’t bother you. Like you’re used to it and it’s no big deal. Until the next time you lash out. You still have to deal with the consequences of your outburst though. Maybe you owe some apologies. If you’re lucky, it was simply a social media post and you’re able to delete it before someone sees it. Maybe you need to run to Home Depot to get supplies to patch a hole in the wall. Regardless of the type of outburst, lashing out brings feelings of shame. At least it does for me. Aren't I better than that? Stronger than that? Tougher than that?

Dealing with MS pain

There aren’t a lot of ways to minimize pain, though it’s worth exploring every option because some things work better for some people than others. Pain is never an excuse to treat others poorly. It’s also not a reason to feel shame. If you live with chronic pain, there are going to be moments when it wins. That doesn’t make you any less of a person, it doesn’t mean you are weak, it doesn’t mean you aren’t tough. It happens to all of us. You are still responsible for how you lash out though.

Let's work on our outbursts and emotions

If you go through these cycles of pain outbursts, you aren’t alone. I think if a lot of us acknowledged our pain more, we’d be less prone to these outbursts. However, it’s not exactly socially acceptable to admit you’re in pain (especially if you are a man). If you’re like me, try to work on the way you lash out and try to stop feeling so ashamed to admit that you are hurting. As Winston said, there are no heroes when it comes to pain. So don’t try to be one.

Thanks so much for reading and always feel free to share! As always, I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!

Devin

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