After a relapse last summer, when my symptoms reversed, I came to learn the distinct difference between mental and physical pain. For years since my diagnosis, I was imprisoned by a deep depression and debilitating anxiety. It lent itself to short-term memory difficulties and other cognitive deficits. I was convinced that multiple sclerosis made me stupid.
The relapse was somewhat expected. I always get sicker in the summer for two reasons: the hot weather and the increase in social activity. During the school year, I can hibernate while my daughter is in school and I can turn down most invitations on school nights. When the summer comes, there are not only invitations for parties but also vacations to go on. This means less sleep and less rest, and with the heat, it is a recipe for disaster.
Around August, the typical symptoms arose: migraines and nausea from inadequate rest, magnified numbness and tingling in my limbs, and even incontinence here and there, as if my nervous system “goes haywire”. But then, some other changes occurred. I started noticing daily physical pain that kept me in bed longer. The other change occurred in my mind– feeling less anxious and less depressed, and being able to tell myself to get out of bed.
It sounds easier now that I say it, but this was a helpful revelation for me. I came to learn that physical pain is more tolerable than mental pain– at least, for me this is true. Prior to these recent changes, most of my days were grey and hopeless. I questioned why I needed to get up when I didn’t have a job to go to and when my daughter didn’t need help getting dressed. I spent a lot of time calculating how much rest I needed and felt dismayed at how much time I was losing due to MS. This put me in a vicious cycle of anger, bitterness, and depression.
After my relapse, I started waking up with a different awareness of pain. Sometimes my body felt bruised, as if I had been beaten up. Sometimes I felt drained, as if I had just run a marathon. The pain was in my limbs, the same places that usually have numbness and tingling. I became mindful of this change in my body, and I knew that the pain had no other cause but MS. I didn’t get beaten up and I didn’t run any marathons, for sure. And with this new mindfulness, I was able to encourage myself to get up and get going through the pain.
I don’t think that the physical pain canceled out my mental pain, but I know I am lucky not to be enduring both at once. Whatever the cause for my improvement, I appreciate the outcome. MS has thrown yet another curveball at me, and I could either be knocked out by it, or learn and grow from it. I’m thankful for this mental relief so that I can make a conscious choice to do the latter.
Do you experience both mental and physical pain?
Kara was raised in New York, where she earned a BA from New York University and MSW from Columbia University. She uses her background in social work, of professionally helping others, to help herself through life with multiple sclerosis. She now lives in New Jersey with her family of four, keeps a food blog to stay creative, and manages an Etsy shop to keep productive.