Monday, March 23, 2009

Good Morning, Mr. Pain

As many of you know, I've been living with chronic pain for a long time. In the last couple of months, I've been doing quite well with it. It's not been better, but my attitude has been. I've been more accepting and self-caring.

I just deleted a re-telling of my morning thus far. You don't need to hear a blow-by-blow. It's boring.

Suffice it to say, I'm overwhelmed. My pain is about an 8 on the pain scale, which is high, but my ability to deal with it is close to zero. I need to talk to someone, but there's no one to talk to right now, so blogging is what I'm doing. It helps, somehow. I also need to see a doctor, and part of my feeling of overwhelm is due to the impersonal way in which the doctor's office responded to my call. I'm sure they get lots of emotional people in pain calling first thing in the morning, especially on a Monday.

Yesterday morning I thought I might need to go the emergency room. I was feeling what I call "I-can't-stand-itis." I could stand it, and I did with aplomb. Armed with three sizes of bandages and three types of soothing creams and gels, Dick and went to watch a curling tournament. It was exciting, and got my mind off how I was feeling. From "I can't stand it" to simply enjoying myself is a big leap, one that seems impossible to make, but pain is a slithery thing.

This morning, I had planned on doing schoolwork and taking care of my neighbor's kids from 3:30 to 9:30. I can't imagine doing either. So, here I am, just waiting for a phone call from the doc's office and hoping it'll come soon (fat chance). I need to make arrangements if I can't take care of those kids. I'm projecting into the future about my schoolwork - "If I keep feeling like this, I'll never finish." All of the machinations in my mind are the big problem, not the pain.

I'm sure if I had a friend over and I was engaged in a meaty discussion or smelling an array of perfume, I'd be feeling much better. If I didn't have obligations, I could just attend to myself. This tells me that I should just attend to myself and forget about the rest. That is the world of chronic, oppressive pain. Living on that slim edge between total disability and taking care of oneself is difficult.

I write this not for pity, but for therapy, and also, with a bit of hope that others who struggle in this way might feel better when reading it. Most of the time, my life is fine, pain or no pain. I had said pain was a slithery thing. It's a slippery thing, a thing that morphs and constantly changes. It's hold on a person varies with a stealthy cruelty. One moment everything is fine. The next, screaming pain tears through a leg, settles down to a dull ache. The mind is confused and wants to both run away and be hypervigilant at the same time. It's exhausting.

I called my morning pain "Mister", and then thought how pain is often dressed in leather, latex and high heels. Not my pain. This is no "she." Mr. Pain is really devoid of gender. And I realize, the minute I see this pain as "not me", it gets much worse. The minute I push away something that is part of myself, it cries out "I'm you! Don't push me away!" Okay, pain, I'll try to accept you and nurture you. I know you need some help. Maybe pain is my baby, and I wouldn't let my baby keep crying out of need without some attention.

Ah, the heating pad feels lovely. Now, what shall I do while I wait for the doctor's call? And should I be the wretched squeaky wheel who keeps calling the doctor's office. I know how much they hate patients who do that, but still. . .

I just don't know. After all this time, I just don't know.

Image note: I wanted use a painting from the Pain Exhibit, but the "save" function has been disabled. Instead, here's the cover of Bob Flanagan's book. He turned his lifelong struggle with Cystic Fibrosis into performance art and wound up leading the longest life of anyone with CF.


BitterGrace said...

You write brilliantly about the experience of pain. Most people can't express their state of being half this clearly, even under the best circumstances. I don't know how you do it. Pain--even the fleeting, trivial kind--renders me speechless.

I think that "slippery" quality of pain is the thing that's hardest for the rest of us to understand, and one of the reasons people are often unsympathetic to those with chronic pain. I know my mother always felt that people suspected her of malingering because she was able to put the pain aside sometimes. Their judgments were, in some ways, harder on her than the pain itself.

Julie H. Rose said...

I just deleted an overlong response to your comment.

Yes, other people's attitudes are difficult. What's more difficult, I think, is the internalizing of these attitudes. I'm trying to divest myself of them. They do not help at all.

And, thanks for the compliment.