Thoughts of Pain & What Comes with It

I’ve been thinking about pain lately. Because I can’t do much (still) and there it is, handily settled into my right arm, offering itself up for introspection. Or to be more accurate, I’ve been thinking about pain and stupidity, because there’s been quite a bit of that, too.

Pain ripples. It starts out localized in your right elbow (say), you start using your body differently to ease the strain and quickly, the rest of your body starts bitching about it. It took my left elbow 24 hours to start registering complaints and three days for my right shoulder to get loud. By this time, the original injury wasn't too bad anymore, provided I was careful and that's when the stupidity happened. Because that's when I started living my life again. For which I have since experienced a fairly constant punishment, because after reining myself back in a little bit and get better, I then start the whole process over again. Hence the stupidity.

Chronic pain teaches you that pain isn't the worst thing that can happen. Not living your life is the worst thing that can happen. And so, you develop filters that mask the pain, block your perception of it and get on with your life. I once tested this - convinced that making a cup of tea in my microwave didn't hurt, I decided to pay attention and discovered that it indeed did hurt, but on the days where I have adequate pain control, isn't loud enough to make it through the filter. One of my favourite barriers to pain is the fun filter – you’re out, with friends, dancing, talking or whatever floats your boat and you are fine. Absolutely fine. You're so fine that you may stay out having fun for longer than you should, but you ignore this, because the music is playing or you are about an hours worth of debate away from solving the world's problems. It is not until you come home and close the front door behind you that the fun filter abruptly falls away and in a nanosecond, you go from an entirely manageable level of pain to wanting to curl up in a fetal position, whimpering in a corner. It usually takes days to recover from something like that, but what you quickly learn is that it’s worth it.

Chronic pain makes you arrogant. First you learn pain isn't the worst thing that can happen and then you learn that even when you have an injury or maybe a little too much fun, with rest and massive amounts of the good drugs, you heal in a few days or maybe a week or three, but the point is that you heal. And when you've done that dance often enough, armed with the knowledge that pain is not the worst thing in the world and that injury or activity-related pain tends to be temporary, you stop listening to the polite requests from your body that maybe it would be a good idea if you sat still. Because not living your life is the worst thing that can happen and if you're busy or engrossed in an enjoyable activity, you don't stop, because you know that even if you give yourself an injury, it'll heal eventually.

Except, sometimes it doesn't. Oh sure, the worst of it might dissipate a little, you may find the point where as long as you rearrange your life, adapt yourself to your new limitations, it becomes part of the background noise that is your condition or disability. The one that provides a constant muttering soundtrack to your life and plots secretly to erode more of your ability and because you learn about filters and good pain meds, you tend to ignore the war of attrition as long as it doesn't bloom into an open attempt at a coup d'état. And then you injure yourself and it's right in front of you again. But you've been there before, you've driven it back before and so, you don't take it seriously, not really.

And with that arrogance comes stupidity. The stupidity of having an injury, of finally listening to you body and sitting still, because stillness, detaching from living your life is the only thing that the opponents can't fight effectively and when they are pushed back, just past the wall, far enough away that you can smack a filter on them and ignore them again, you go back to your life too soon and before you know it, you've been in a protracted battle for weeks, your sense of humour is gone and you see only the darkening world. It is usually at this point that you start berating yourself, because you should know better. You have been here a thousand times before, you know how this one goes and you know that to be impatient, to start living again too soon makes it worse. Might in fact take it from temporary to permanent and yet, in your arrogance, you believe that this time, it won't, because you have won so many times before.

Chronic pain makes you believe that you are superwoman. Because when you've done this dance often enough, you know that as long as the filters and the meds keep the soundtrack of pain below a certain level, you can ignore it, get on with your life. And you know that when the soundtrack gets loud, you have ways of silencing it, even if it takes a few days, a week or three or maybe more, but the point is, you have won so many times before that you believe, absolutely believe, that you can win again. Because once you have dealt with the tip of the iceberg, the rest of it involves a fair degree of willpower, of willing the filter in place to shut up the pain enough that you can move on with your day and over time, this can lead to the certain belief that solving your problem, suppressing the disease, is within your powers, requiring merely that you find the right 'button' and once you have, apply a little willpower to it.

And so, although other people should remember that pain is a sign that something is wrong and they should act accordingly and rest, this doesn't apply to you, because if you did that every time it hurt, you'd never do anything but sit still. And who has time for that?