by Grettel Loney
Chronic pain steals all energy from you. It makes it extremely difficult for your body to produce the endorphins it usually does naturally, so then you feel depressed. Sleep is hard to come by which makes you more tired, which makes you more emotional, and it’s all the more challenging to deal with the pain. Meds sometimes cause more side effects than benefits. It’s a vicious cycle. And all the while the enemy wants to go ahead and run the victory lap because he knows many don’t make it through a journey of chronic pain.
I had eight back surgeries over nine years. The most recent was two years ago. If you met me today, I’d like to think you’d have no idea of what I’ve been through regarding many years of chronic pain and all that entails—the feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, of being a burden to your family, the depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, and more. I’d like to think you’d meet a happy, grateful woman with much hope for the future.
“But by the grace of God go I.”
We all have a story. I truly believe that. I’ve learned so much through my trials. It’s crazy to even write this… but I wouldn’t change a thing about my journey. Why? Because I know God can use all things for His good, including my dark years of intense pain and everything else I mentioned. Many people live with pain. And you know what? Though physical pain and emotional pain are two very different things, they share many similarities. Both are brutal… both are very personal hells no one else around you can see or feel.
Maybe you’ve not lived with chronic physical pain. Maybe your pain is deep in your heart. Maybe even deeper—in your soul. Maybe your heart physically hurts because you’re in such deep despair. Maybe you’re so stressed or despondent you can’t sleep. Or so tired you can’t imagine going on if you can’t catch some sort of break soon. This story is for you, too.
I always worried people wouldn’t believe my pain. Before I had a two-level fusion, I would always wear a back brace. I’d actually wear two to sleep. Even during the summer, I wore my brace over a shirt and a shirt over the brace. I didn’t want to draw attention to it. I learned years ago many people get uncomfortable when they know you are hurting. So I smiled. The more I hurt, the bigger the smile. I remember one day getting shots in my hips just an hour before going to pick up my daughter from school. Even though my damaged nerves were in my lower back, my hips were always on fire. And so I got these shots hoping to bring down swelling in the bursa sacs in the hips. By the time I got to her school, I could barely walk. I ran into a good friend. I had a ginormous smile on my face. It was so big, she asked if I was feeling good. I felt safe being real to her, so I told her no, actually I could barely walk because I’d just gotten those shots. She said, “Well you look good!” I know she meant that as a compliment, and that’s how I took it. But sometimes I wanted to tell or maybe even yell at someone,
“I’M SMILING BUT I DON’T FEEL GOOD! NOT ONE BIT! MY LIFE IS OUT OF CONTROL RIGHT NOW! I’M SAD! I’M DEPRESSED ACTUALLY! I HURT SO BADLY I COULD SCREAM. I DIDN’T WANT TO GET OUT OF BED TODAY! THANKS FOR ASKING!!! HOW ARE YOU????”
Thankfully I never replied to anyone that way.
My back problems began right after college. I went to visit a friend in upstate New York soon after graduation. She took me water-skiing for my first time. She swore I’d have no problems. Boy was she terribly mistaken. I wiped out and hard. As I was trying to get up on the skis just the second time, I fell backwards, but my legs didn’t stay together. My right leg shot out of the water and 90 degrees to the right tearing my right hamstring. My back hit the water so hard it felt like I had hit concrete.
When I got back home to Tulsa, my hamstring seemed like the more serious injury, but it turned out I had torn two discs in the fall. Over time, the discs collapsed. It didn’t help that I enjoyed running. I didn’t think my injury could be so bad, after all, I was only in my 20s. After my hamstring healed, I would get shots to mask the pain in my lower back so I could continue to run.
In my late 20s I had two back-to-back miscarriages. I was so hurt and devastated. I’d always wanted to run a marathon, and this seemed like the perfect time to focus on what I believed was a very positive goal to avoid depression. I trained for and ran two marathons before my back put up the white flag.
The injections, physical therapy, chiropractor adjustments, and meds finally quit working, and the pain was too much to mask anymore. (Note to the younger folks… please listen to your body!) Running wasn’t the root of my pain, but it sped up the process of my torn discs collapsing. Once they did, the pain of bone rubbing on bone was just nasty. The collapsed discs pressed on nerves in my spinal canal. It was like having a tooth ache from my lower right back to my right ankle—constant, incessant, and exhausting.
I put up with the pain for as long as I could until it affected my quality of life severely, after I’d gone to numerous docs, and after I’d tried every procedure recommended to me. These included acupuncture with hot needles, having my damaged nerves burned (rhizotomy), and so many injection treatments my back looked like a pin cushion.
All the while, I continued to get worse and worse. I wish I could say the surgeries made me all better, but I got worse and worse with those as well. My healing began unexpectedly, of all places, in a beautiful old cathedral across the ocean—in Paris’ Notre Dame. But that story will have to wait for another day.
I want to leave you with this for now, though: No one knows exactly the pain you’re enduring right this second except for you and Someone else. His name is Jesus.
He is One familiar with pain. He took a massive beating and then was crucified for you and for me. Have you ever felt so much in despair you were certain God had abandoned you? I did. But more importantly, Jesus did. Have you ever suffered through such hopeless, lonely, agonizing days and nights you didn’t want to live anymore? Have you ever had thoughts that were so dark you didn’t dare share them with anyone?
You are not forgotten. You are not alone. Contrary to what you might be feeling, you are loved.
Reach out to God. He knows everything that is heavy on your heart. He knows you’ve been angry, or perhaps you’ve downright doubted He could or would do anything for you. Maybe you feel you’re not good enough to deserve his grace and mercy and healing. Talk to him. Maybe you want to, but you don’t even know where to start. For suggestions on practical things you can do to seek God, click here.
If you need someone godly to talk to, please call our church at 918-592-3862. If you are having thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
To Be Continued…
Grettel Loney moved to Tulsa in 1989 to attend Oral Roberts University. She is married to Clay and has two children: Bryant, a freshman at the University of Tulsa, and Gracie, a seventh grader at Carver Middle School. Grettel enjoys Bible study, playing the guitar, traveling, learning languages, and is an avid sports fan.