There’s Nothing Common About a Cold When You Have Chronic Pain

Empty cold medicine cup Chronic pain – whether it’s from fibromyalgia, RA, ME/CFS, or any other illness – ought to be enough for any lifetime.

It really, really oughtta be enough. It should entitle us all to a free pass for life from all colds, influenza, sinus infections, stomach bugs, and other manner of conventional temporary illness.

Yet, sadly, as we’ve all discovered much to our own chagrin, it obviously doesn’t, since we all still get sick from time to time.

Take now, for instance, for me.

For the last three days, I’ve been completely unable to breathe through my nose, thanks to the stuffy, compressed kind of congestion. I’ve had low-grade fever on and off, just enough to make me feel like crap (that is, on top of the usual fibro pain). And this morning, a lovely new symptom – a painfully engorged lymph node right where my lower jaw hits the neck area.

Can I just say “owie”?

We can take all the precautions in the world, but short of living inside a plastic bubble, we’re just never going to completely eliminate the risk of catching a cold or the flu.

But whereas that’s true for all of humanity, it’s also true that things like colds and the flu are even harder on those of us living with chronic pain conditions.

For me, being sick this week has been especially rough. Thanks to some unexpectedly cancelled income opportunities, I’ve had to scramble hard this month to make up the lost cash for rent, utility bills and groceries.

But at the same time, coping with a bad cold means I’ve lost the ability to focus for any significant period of time. So I constantly feel as if I’m coming unmoored and flitting around from thing to thing, or problem to problem, without being able to spend enough time in one spot to solve even one of those problems.

I think another key challenge for us in dealing with things like colds and other viral or biological infections is the way it makes us feel so inadequate to the task of coping. We’re so used to a certain level, type, and quantity of pain. Then a cold comes along, with a fever that causes additional pain, or a sinus infection which makes your face feel like it’s going to explode painfully. And there’s this whole new level of pain and discomfort.

I don’t know about you but for me, it’s like …

What the crap do I do NOW?!

How do I deal with THIS?!


This has been happening frequently for me at night, when I am trying so desperately to sleep so my body can heal, but my inability to breathe is causing me to wake frequently. On a couple of occasions this week, in the middle of the night I have hit that point feeling like I’m drowning, like I’ll never breathe again.

So, it’s a problem on many levels.

For me, the only real relief I can find to that scary “ACK-OMG” feeling is the relief I find on the yoga mat – the ability to experience something physically without living in it emotionally or mentally.

Coping in this manner requires some conscious effort at changing the running monologue in my head – consciously revising the script of self-talk from the fear-based to the objective.

Of course, you can’t jump from “I’M SUFFOCATING!” to “I’m fine.” You have to go up level by level. So it might look something like this:

I’m suffocating! I’ll never breathe again! This is going to kill me! … OK, that’s not something I can possibly know for sure right now, so how about I get up and get vertical and see if that helps … OK, it helped a little…OMG I am never going to get to sleep! And then I’ll hurt like hell tomorrow, and then … OK, maybe I’ll hurt more than usual tomorrow, but I can deal with that then. Right now, what’s the problem? I can’t breathe and I can’t sleep. OK, if I can’t sleep, then I might as well see if I can make myself more physically comfortable. Maybe another dose of Nyquil? Maybe that nasal decongestant spray? etc., etc…

Like I said, it’s a process, and one that requires significant effort on my part.

I think that level of sheer effort is why so many of us just don’t even try to challenge that tendency to catastrophize. We live there by default, and we’re unaware that all the while, we’re literally training our brain to cause us more pain.

And don’t we have enough of that to contend with?


photo credit: stevendepolo via photopin cc

One thought on “There’s Nothing Common About a Cold When You Have Chronic Pain

  1. Shannon

    Sorry to hear you are suffering! I was so sick at Thanksgiving I couldn’t even get out of bed. Next day when I made it to the shower, I couldn’t even wash my hair because I needed to keep one hand clamped on the grab bar and pray the room would stop spinning. Short of recovering from surgery, it was a level of fatigue and bone-deep achiness which was a fresh hell, indeed. I totally get where you are coming from and I hope that you recover quickly. Know that I’m sending healing vibes your way!
    Shannon recently posted..Tuesdau-Newsday #141. What a doll!


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