Distractful thinking

“By this time tomorrow, this flare will be gone.”

That’s what I used to tell myself during the bad flares, the ones that made me wonder how I’d live through them. The ones that were so bad it felt like a dull spike was being drilled into the joints of my knee, or my great toe, or my shoulder.

“By this time tomorrow it will be gone.”

Sometimes the flare actually was gone by that time the next day. It hardly mattered, honestly. Telling myself that, in the midst of the awful pain and the silent, screaming fear that came with it helped to keep me calm. To keep me strong. It was a coping tool I used faithfully because it worked.

“By this time tomorrow it will be gone” doesn’t work with hip bursitis. Unlike my rheuma flares, which vary in intensity and can be depended upon (I can’t believe I’m writing that!) to ease off and stop eventually, this bursitis is always with me. I wake up to the same low, insistent, aching pain in both hips that I went to sleep with last night. Every night. And it persists all day, every day, despite exercise, despite Tramadol and now, Vicodin.

Of course, with the bursitis is my new and improved, under-pharmaceutical-control rheuma-dragon, who bites and chews at my knuckles and wrists at random. He’s invited his cousin, the osteo-wyrm, in for a visit, and he’s given her the joints at my fingertips to work on. Together they’re gnawing away as I type this, an aggravating counterpoint to the throbbing of “my” bursitis, which throbs from my arse down the back and outside of each hip to the knee. Basically along the entire length of my iliotibial bands (IT bands), the long, thick ligaments that sorta hold all the thigh muscles in place and help me walk.

Yeah, okay. I’m in a whiny mood this morning. Silly me; I went to sleep last night telling myself a variation of the fable I started this post with: “It will be gone when I wake up.”

Eh, not so much.

The good news is that the increased dosage of nortriptyline I take an hour before bedtime each night is working. I sleep right through the bursitis aches now. I’m deeply grateful. Despite my carping, that deep, restful sleep each night makes a huge difference in my ability to cope with the pain as I make my way through each day. I think I’ll send a thank-you note to my always-smiling, practical rheumatologist, Dr. McA.

When I opened Word to write this post, I had in mind to write about the coping mechanisms I use for rheuma (and now, bursitis) that help me through flares. The main one I was thinking about? Distraction. In our busy world, we tend to think of distraction as a bad thing. Distractions keep us from keeping our attention on our work, or on the road as we drive. But when we’re in pain, anything that can help us shift our minds away from it is welcome.

Allowing pain to command our constant, full attention makes for far more stress and can make hours seem like days. It can be hard to tear our minds away from it, but I’ve found practice works in this case.


When I hurt, and my mind is determined to stay with the pain (like this morning, for instance), I look for something equally as compelling to distract me from it. For many years my first, go-to choice has been to lose myself in a good book.

It doesn’t matter which genre or type of book you choose. It just has to be one that can capture your interest and imagination and hold it tight. For me, only fiction can really do that. One of my favorite books is The Stand, by Steven King. There are several compelling aspects to The Stand: it’s filled with complex, fully fleshed-out characters, both scary and not; and it’s incredibly descriptive, so that when I’m reading, I’m right there, an observer in the place where the action is taking place. The plot is simple: this is a story about good vs. evil. Finally, The Stand is a long book. It has the added virtue of riveting me to its pages for hours at a stretch.

My mind is refocused. While I’m reading, I don’t notice my pain anymore. It’s as simple as that.

Another method I use for distraction is writing. This is harder, of course—words don’t always want to manifest themselves on the page the way I want them to. But if I can manage it, the sheer delight of writing fast and (hopefully) well is a wonderful distraction from physical pain.

Listening to a good audiobook can work, too. It’s a 30-minute drive to my aunt and uncle’s house when I go there to shop and cook for them. I always use the same route, as it’s the quickest, but it’s pretty dull. A few weeks ago I plugged my iTouch into the dashboard stereo, pressed the AUX button and started listening to A Wizard of Earthsea, a book written long ago by the famous science fiction and fantasy author Ursula K. LeGuin. The story, which is about magic, wizards, and a very different world from my own, is read by Harlan Ellison. He’s a terrific author of science fiction and fantasy in his own right, and quite famous. His voicing as he reads the story to me is sublime.

Each time I drive to my aunt and uncle’s house now I listen to a little more of A Wizard of Earthsea. It makes the drive seem like it takes about four minutes, and if I’m hurting from bursitis or RA at the time (which I usually am), I lose my awareness of it. It’s actually a double gift: I’m entertained and my pain is “relieved” at the same time.

Movies and TV, unless they’re really, really good, don’t work quite as well for me as pain-distracters as books do. But for lots of people, they do work equally as well. Comedies offer that special, double gift, too: along with distraction, you’re given laughter, which stimulates endorphins, the brain’s natural opiates. What more could you ask for?

Oh, right. A cure. Well, we can’t have that yet, but in the meantime, it’s worth it to practice the art of distraction. There’s more to pain control than drugs. And how about that: While I wrote this post I forgot, most of the time, my aching hips and twingy fingers.

It’s like magic.



9 thoughts on “Distractful thinking

  1. I know those words. I have often uttered them myself. Like you, it only works with RA (and fibro). With the injuries in my neck and back from the auto accident, it doesn’t work. That pain surpasses the RA and the fibro. Your visitors are dragons, but mine are monsters that attack my emotions as well. 🙂 I am glad that you were able to find something to help you get some sleep at night. I have not asked my doctor for a sleep aid but I have been taking OTC pain relievers with sleep aids when necessary. Distraction is a good thing but it is a bit difficult when you lay down at night to sleep. 😦 Both really good books – I have not read the entire Earthsea series but I read three of them many years ago. I don’t even think I remember them so it might be something to read again.


  2. Distraction is a saving grace in my world. I have such a huge arsenal of distractions now a days and I use every single one of them. I am so sorry to read that your bursitis continues to rage on you still. If only we could vanquish them all away.


  3. Wren, you never whine!! But YAY for distraction – big fan of it, especially with audio books! It’s a long time since I read any Ursula le Guin – maybe it’s time to give her another outing, possibly in audio book form!


  4. The osteo wyrm. Snort! I love your writing.

    I’m disappearing into Bag of Bones by Stephen King these days. On audio, read by the author. I highly recommend it. Wonderful distraction.


  5. Excellent post, Wren! I will be passing this one on to my family. 🙂 I also read for distraction (though I am a lifelong avid reader anyway). And I am right with you there on the hip bursitis – it is more aggravating in some ways than the RA. Glad you have found some ways to cope and are sleeping better. Sleep is such a goodness! 🙂


  6. Oh and also thanks for posting about the Earthsea books read by Harlan Ellison. I didn’t know they existed in that format. I LOVE his storytelling voice. We got the chance to spend some time with him at a science fiction convention years ago and his voice is so distinctive (he recently voiced an episode of Scooby Doo & the kids were watching it & I recognized his voice from across the years. It was quite funny). I’ll have to download those Earthsea books. Love them! 🙂


  7. I have had bursitis in my left hip for four years and I suspect I have it in my right hip now. I haven’t been able to sleep on my left hip since getting it and it always hurts a little. Some days it hurts bad. It is a bad pain and there are many days when its pain is much worse than my RA pain. Your methods for pain distraction seem good. I tend to watch tv on the computer or listen to music while browsing the web. It keeps my mind preoccupied.


  8. Pain sucks. Distractions rock! Sorry you have been in so much pain. I know I’ve thought the same thing before, “By this time tomorrow, this flare will be gone.” Seldom ever holds true, but I still think it.

    btw, I know the osteo-wyrm well!


  9. The Earthsea trilogy is among the first books I can remember really being enraptured by. I say this as someone who has been a voracious reader from a fairly young age.

    I would be uncomfortable with buying an audio version read by Harlan Ellison, though. His blatant sexism and downright raunchy, lewd way of treating women in the Sci-Fi field just makes me sick to my stomach. The female author whose breasts he groped while giving her an award onstage is a friend of a friend, so I have heard rather a lot about him. It was far from his first offence; female con-goers are often warned about him and there are frequent incidents.


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