Living with a chronic pain condition is hard. Being unemployed with a chronic pain condition is harder.
That seems counterintuitive, I know. When you go to bed crying from the intense aching in your muscles that won’t respond to painkillers — or when you have to ration the effective painkillers because of what they do to your stomach — it might seem obvious that getting up the next day and going to work would be intolerable.
There are days, as I have written before, that it hurts to bloody breathe. (Mornings like this morning.) I have been having a lot of those days lately. When I have a job to do, I have something to take my mind off my pain. I have something productive facing me. Is it still hard to work? Yes. But I can still work — and still do good work — when I am struggling with pain.
Most of all, I have someone else to give me tasks. I wish I could say that I had the self-discipline to set my own tasks, and not give in to the temptation to watch television, and move as little as possible. I have been more successful the past few weeks than I have during some stretches in the past; I have written some, and I have kept up with my job hunting. Sometimes, though, I just need another person to require me to get things done: it’s easier to concentrate on somebody else’s tasks than figure out my own, especially if it is someone who is paying me. I spend time doing crosswords: my speed helps me judge (and increase) my mental acuity.
I do not use alcohol or drugs to control the pain. (I could so easily get a green card, but have chosen not to.) This is partly because the side effects of drugs and alcohol: most opioid painkillers work only somewhat, and marijuana exacerbates depression. Alcohol makes me feel better for a short while, but makes the pain the next day far worse. I drink an occasional beer or glass of wine, but I have to be very careful not to have more than one (at most two) drinks, or I will pay for it heavily down the road.
Movement helps, if I can get myself moving. Today, I had to do housecleaning, so by the afternoon my pain was down to a dull ache. I can’t do a job with heavy physical requirements, but boy, would I welcome someone requiring me to use my brain.
It’s a disease, I keep telling myself. A disorder. Not a moral failing.
Working — especially for money — helps me convince myself of that.