mother lies down tired and in pain while her child cuddles her

Family Health

My Chronic Pain is Real and Debilitating — I Feel It and So Do My Kids

Jul 10, 2019

It sounds melodramatic, but last year I felt like I caught a glimpse of my deathbed scene.

It was the day we had arrived in Mexico. I was there with my sisters and my two kids, and my partner was due to arrive the next day.

At dinner, I was struck with a really horrible migraine. Because I suffer from chronic migraine headaches, I knew I had to get back to the hotel room, make it as dark as possible, swallow some extra heavy duty migraine meds and Gravol, and stick a whack of ice on my head.

More Reading: Six Ways I Take Care of Myself When I Need a Break From My Kids

Then my kids decided they wanted to come back with me.

The first problem was stumbling the 15-minute walk back to the room through a maze of paths and jungles, barely able to see while my children anxiously trailed behind me. I tried to text my family for help but I was in a zone with no reception. I eventually found the room, somehow got ice and medication, and proceeded to alternatively throw up and drift in and out of consciousness.

Understandably, my kids were freaked out.

They are all too familiar with the migraine routine, but at home I am better at nipping a bad one in the bud, and I have the support of my partner. In one of my more lucid moments, I felt my eight-year-old daughter calmly stroking my forehead and murmuring reassurances. It was quite the role reversal.

I sensed my 11-year-old son’s anxiety in almost palpable waves as he watched in terror. I could barely speak as I tried to mumble that I would be OK, and that was when I had a flash of insight that this would be a scene that would play out again, perhaps, in the — hopefully distant — future.

In the end, my son managed to text my family who came in to save the day. And, importantly, remove the burden from my children of trying to care for me and make everything OK.

Chronic pain is a beast. It’s an unwelcome guest at the parenting party — and my life.

When you are a parent with chronic pain, it is like having another relationship. My kids have learned to recognize when this entity is present, or arriving soon: the lines of pain on my forehead; the look in my eyes; or the tension in my jaw.

They also know I won’t be doing my best parenting that day.

Plans might get cancelled, or soccer games missed. I won’t be able to respond to every question, mood or nuance. And as I’m a divorced parent with the majority of the responsibility of child rearing, a migraine can’t always be covered off. My kids are often the ones getting me ice packs or medication when I can’t move. They are the ones who don’t get bedtime stories that night.

And I hate it. I hate this chronic pain so much, because of what it takes away from them. I take injections every month, avoid all food and drink that can make the condition worse, and try my best to remove all triggers. It’s not enough. I can mitigate but not completely avoid the days when pain gets the better of all of us. Those days where worry is in their eyes, and they have to shrug off their disappointment when plans change on the fly.

During a flare-up, I try to make it an OK situation. We watch our favourite TV shows, and I let them indulge in pizza from the comfort of our couch. I like being with them — even if my mind or spirit can’t be present, at least my body is.

Chronic pain is a beast. It’s an unwelcome guest at the parenting party — and my life.

More Reading: I Have Cancer and I'm Dying and I'm Ready to Tell My Son

While it’s awful and inconvenient, my kids — at a tender age — are learning how to be empathetic, insightful, comforting and patient all at the same time. Because, for them, there is no alternative.

They have taken everything in stride, and I’m so proud of them. And yet, sad for them at the same time.

If you know someone suffering from chronic pain, please don’t think that it’s all in their mind. It’s a phantom presence that anyone would evict in a heartbeat. If you also suffer from chronic pain, I’m sorry. And I hope your support systems are brave, caring and loving souls who are happy to help because they love and cherish you through the good and not-so-good days.

Article Author Janice Quirt
Janice Quirt

Read more from Janice here.

Janice Quirt is a yoga teacher and freelance writer who lives in the beautiful hills of the Headwaters in Orangeville, Ontario, with her blended family of seven. With kids spanning a decade in age, there are always some shenanigans on the go, and she loves being in the middle of it all. Janice loves sharing nature, eco-living and new experiences with her family and friends, as well as a fine cup of coffee and a good book.

Add New Comment

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Submission Policy

Note: The CBC does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that comments are moderated and published according to our submission guidelines.