back pain, chronic illness, chronic pain, meditation, mindfulness, pain, spoonie, spoonie life
Comments 14

When is a Flare More Than a Flare?

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I’m writing this while wearing my neck TENS unit that also has electrodes snaking down to my shoulders. I have been in a pain flare for weeks. We are talking days upon days of pure, undiluted flare. I can’t remember the last time I felt this rocky for so long.

Visual representation of how ragtag I feel.

Visual representation of how ragtag I feel.

My absence from this blog has been spent just trying to get through the work day without being crushed by my own body. I broke down and took the heavy medications I save for truly bad days, and they did nothing to relieve the pressure. All three levels of my spine are throbbing with different ailments: tension and shooting pain in my neck, head, and shoulders; pulsing rib pain around my trunk; and rickety bones setting off sciatic jolts in my hips and legs. Is it the heat? The constantly-changing weather? The humidity? Work stress? Sitting for too long? Inhaling while turning too quickly? Who the hell knows.

A violent game of chess caused a flare that lasted for seven weeks.

A violent game of chess caused a flare that lasted for seven months.

What does it mean to flare? A flare is when your normal pain suddenly magnifies for whatever reason. Breakthrough pain occurs when medications fail to cover the pain itself, and the pain “breaks through.” End-of-dose failure is when the pain medications only cover four hours instead of, say, eight. We must plan for these eventualities. We must also decide whether these are new ailments or just our normal underlying problems.

How do you discern that, though? How does one say, “Oh, this back pain is the back pain I’ve lived with for a decade” and be sure that something squirrely isn’t happening as well?

Yeah, I'm looking at you, Trump.

Yeah, I’m looking at you, Trump.

New symptoms become a source of fear. Is it just a headache, or is your fibromyalgia becoming more creative in its illustration? Are your hands just stiff, or is your rheumatoid arthritis getting worse? Is it intense back pain or a kidney infection? We become scientists, turning our microscopic focus inward to splice apart what pain is normal and what pain is not.

The worst part is that flares can last for weeks or even months. What can we do to mitigate these pain flares when they arise?

  • Sleep more.
  • Rest more.
  • Bow out of some activities in order to rest.
  • Protect your body when lifting, moving, walking, etc.
  • Low-impact exercise (swimming, yoga, Tai Chi, etc.).
  • Stretching.
  • Warm baths.
  • Massage.
  • Paraffin wax (I actually own one of these wax units and use it when my hands are particularly bad).
  • Maintain positivity, even when all you want to do is murder everyone.

You can do it, kiddo!

I actually heard the best quote about pain recently that has been resonating with me. That’s appropriate, considering this is Pain Awareness Month. As social psychologist Brock Bastian said,

Pain is a kind of shortcut to mindfulness: it makes us suddenly aware of everything in the environment. It brutally draws us into a virtual sensory awareness of the world, much like meditation.

Pain can become a tool. Instead of it controlling us, we can wield it and use it to find a greater understanding of ourselves. We can discover our absolute limits and push beyond them. We can become more than we ever dared.

That’s why I signed the U.S. Pain Foundation’s pledge. Their mission is “[t]o connect, inform and empower those living with pain while advocating on behalf of the entire pain community. Advocacy is one of the only true ways that we chronic pain patients can help ourselves. I am going to get involved to the best of my ability, because I am more than this pain. I will not let my pain define me. And I will not let this flare get the best of me.


  1. Great article. You touched on an issue I’m currently dealing with. I have a flood of new symptoms. I have dysautonmia and many other autoimmune disorders. When new symptoms occur it can be scary. In the back of you mind I’m thinking is this the start of multiple system failure and how can I stop the river rushing to to drowned me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s amazing how many things can go wrong at once, isn’t it? When that happens to me, I try really hard to disconnect myself from that “OHMYGODEVERYTHINGISGOINGWRONG” section of my brain, which is incredibly hard (and I don’t always succeed). Healing thoughts!


  2. Been dealing with a month long flare, as well, and it’s the first time in a LONG time I’ve dealt with this for so long. Very confused on what is going on but hoping it is just a flare. Sending healing and well wishes ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. MySkyeLark says

    Love your quote that it won’t define you. It resonates with me as I found pain helpful to tell me when I’ve done too much but I’m always trying to push these boundaries as you never know what you might achieve

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you!! Pain is definitely a good “you need rest” indicator. I try to push it sometimes, like if I’m out with friends, though usually I end up regretting that!


  4. Amusedmuse says

    Thankyou! I found your blog by searching for ‘stop chronic pain flare ups’ in case there had been a miracle in the last few weeks but your post has soothed me and reminded me to just accept it. Not as in being defeated by it, but as in doing my best with the mostly brilliant life I have. The hardest part for me is feeling/being professionally unreliable. Dropping the ball on high profile projects is damaging, but dropping the high profile projects is devastating to me, so I find month long flare ups incredibly frustrating!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It constantly amazes me, how people find this blog. Thank you so much for your kind words. And I totally hear you on the “professionally unreliable” thing. I’m still trying to figure out how to talk to my bosses. What sort of work do you do? Feel free to PM me if you get overwhelmed, it’s always good to have someone to talk to! 🙂


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