Pain and memory

On Thursday last week the Pacific “storm door” finally opened up to a chain of wet, blustery storms. They’ve swept into California one after another to give us a thorough, desperately needed soaking in the valley and foothills—and multiple feet of snow in the Sierras. It’s Monday now and still raining. It’s just lovely.

The bottomed-out barometer that unlocked the storm door has been wreaking havoc with my RA and hip bursitis, though. I felt the inflammation start building up early last week, so it wasn’t really a surprise.  The only thing new about this pain is that it’s worse than it’s been in a long, long time. It sort of blindsided me. And suddenly, I’m finding it difficult to cope.

How can this be? After 24 years of rheumatoid arthritis, you’d think that I could deal with pain without a lick of effort. But here I am, once again stunned at how much my hips hurt, how much my knees and fingers ache, and how impaired, how profoundly weary the combination makes me feel.

Yes, it’s been worse. Much worse. I can recall times when the pain of moving an intensely flared joint—a finger, a shoulder, a knee—made me moan and cry out like a child. I can remember when a badly flared joint in my foot made every step I took an act of extreme bravery, of stubborn determination. The flares happened over and over again. The only variation was which joint was involved and what day—even what hour—it was.

So even as much as I hurt right now, this pain is nothing like it was in the old days. Why is my breath held, waiting for it to get even worse? Why am I so shocked?

Well, those bad old days when my rheuma pain was awful left me with some trauma, as stress and pain can do to anyone. With that in mind, I’ve done a little research into trauma and how we remember things.

According to a website Google directed me to called Human Priorities:

“(T)he conscious memory system keeps its memories pretty much out in the open, and we can usually find them when we choose to and ignore them if we want to. But the unconscious memory system keeps its memories tucked away until our brain systems tell it we need them for survival purposes (to pull us toward things that will bring us pleasure, or warn us about things that will cause us pain). Then it pulls them out and puts them right in front of us where we can’t ignore them—as images, sounds or smells ‘in our heads,’ strong emotions, or sensations in our bodies .


“But why do we sometimes forget times of extreme pain and danger—like the women who forget the pain of childbirth, the adults who don’t remember bad things that happened to them as kids, or the veterans who can’t remember firefights or explosions they were in?  That’s because of the way our different brain chemicals work together under stress and threat.  In some cases, our brains may “record” intense unconscious memories of sights, sounds, smells, and feelings, but have trouble recording the conscious memories that would help us piece together what happened.  In both cases, this is the body’s best guess at what will protect us and help us survive.”

This makes sense to me. When my rheuma symptoms hit a certain way—a sudden, sharp twinge in my fingers as I’m lifting my coffee cup, for instance—I instantly flash to a time, years ago, when my bad flares would begin with just that ugly sensation. So my current nerviness is a result of my unconscious mind warning me that worse pain may be on the way. It allows me to prepare, at least mentally.

Most of what I’m feeling right now is hip bursitis, which makes me gimpy, sore and grumpy. But the last storm in this cycle is slowly moving eastward, and there are no more storms in the immediate future. The barometer is already rising, so tomorrow will bring partly cloudy skies, no rain, and warmer temperatures.  The rheuma symptoms may wane. And perhaps it means waning bursitis pain as well.

Fingers are crossed.

10 thoughts on “Pain and memory

  1. I’m also feeling the pain of these storms here in SoCal. Let’s hope they pass quickly. (Unfortunately, it hurts too much to cross my fingers :-P) Hang in there!


  2. I have come to the conclusion that the rhuema demon has been on the prowl here in the US from coast to coast. We are united in one big, bad ugly flare! Must be this crazy weather running hither and fro from ocean to ocean. My thoughts are with you and we can only hope that we when the sun shines tomorrow, our flare will have moved on. We can hope can’t we? Feel better my dear cyber friend.


  3. Oh dear – I’m so sorry you’re suffering so much! 😦 I really hope the storms passing over means the rheuma dragon slinks quietly back into his lair!


  4. Bless you. The barometric pressure wreaks havoc with my joints as well (even flying causes me grief), so hopefully when yours rises that bad old rheuma dragon will back off again. We are expecting some badly needed rain here in Dallas tonight and tomorrow and although I’m grateful for the rain, I’m not looking forward to the next 24-36 hours of low pressure. Take care of yourself. Hugs, Carla


  5. Sorry to hear that Wren 😦 I will keep my fingers crossed as well and hope that this passes quickly.
    I know what you mean about memory. I haven’t got 24 years’ worth of RA memories but when I feel well I completely ‘forget’ how bad it can be and then if I feel a twinge I haven’t felt for a while I panic, remembering and fearing the pain’s return. Hang in there!


  6. Wren, I’m so sorry you’re in so much pain. I hope it eases soon and you get some relief.

    When I first started to feel my arthritis in my hips a couple of years ago, I remember being shocked by how much it hurt. For some reason, I had always thought the big joints wouldn’t hurt as much as the little ones – definitely not true.

    I’m thinking of you and hoping those storms roll away soon.


  7. What a gorgeous photo of the storm! Did you take this? So sorry the storms dog piled on you. We had some pretty serious storms last night and got some much needed rain (while I picked up some additional pain and swelling). Thats pretty amazing about the memory system. Hope you are feeling better by now Wren, talk to you later.


  8. Yep, same storms, same flares here on the east coast. It’s been a month of constant ups and downs, with little time in between to get back to a good place.

    Has anyone else noticed that the “arthritis” predictors on the weather sites have it all wrong. Our (son, daughter & me) flares always start much sooner than the predictors. Usually, we are hours ahead of their predictions.

    The weather has to calm down sometime, stay strong til then.


  9. I’ve only lived with constant chronic pain for 4 1/2 years, but it is still distressing and somehow startling to me when it gets worse. For me, the pain rarely recedes significantly without a change in medication, and then the relief is shocking – as if I had almost forgotten what it felt like to be in that little pain. Something about pain makes it hard to…to…hmm, to brace yourself for emotionally, I guess. It’s hard to express what I mean.



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