PAIN'S A PAIN
It’s also a real drain. I wonder, has anyone ever used chronic pain as a murder defense? I’ll be on your jury because I understand. My husband was watching college basketball a while ago. Duke was playing its last game before coach Mike Krzyzewski left for back surgery. The camera panned the bench and I thought, yup, that’s a man in pain. Looks like he’s gonna kill somebody. I see that look a lot in the mirror. I see it a lot on the streets. People hurt, to all degrees. And hurt people hurt people. It’s invisible and pervasive, and if it were just pain that was the draining part of pain, we’d be gold. Give me an additional 10 pound sack to carry around and tell me that’s just how it’s going to be, I’ll adjust. But oh no. Pain’s not up front like that. It’s one high maintenance traveler. I’ll wake up thinking my pain’s just got a carry on and then we’re boarded and I see the four huge bags it’s dragging behind, the little shit. Bags filled with So. Much. Stuff. Everything I write about in this book, pain wants to take a chunk of, directly or not. That’s why I’m keeping this short. It gets enough time.
When I blew a disc in my back I felt pain I can only describe as blatant, pure. "Well hello nerve, how do you do? May I take over your life for a time, perchance?” That’s about as clean a pain as I’ve ever had. Usually pain brings with it a lot of other crap like fear and anger, frustration, grief, puzzlement, exhaustion, shame, loneliness, age, depression, isolation, did I mention anger? And that’s just one bag. It also uses actual fucking things too, that are generally expensive. The stuff of pain brings its own stuff until I’m left wondering, how much stuff do I let pain use before I feel it’s using all my stuff too? Just how much wood can a woodchuck chuck, anyway? Serving pain can do a number on a bucket.
It brings stories, too. It tells me something is going to cause pain. That’s not bad information, since I do indeed have to protect my resources. Problem is, some of those other friends of pain are quite the dramatists and we can’t just stick to the facts. They tell me to be afraid too, so then sadness wants to bring anger along for safety. Then anxiety just starts running around, bumping into the others. It’s a real…pain. Eventually I need to calm all the interlopers down and find out what pain needs. And tell anxiety to wear different shoes.
Okay, so what to do about pain? Yup, I have those answers, along with some lovely oceanfront property in Idaho that I’m willing to sell. I’m not here to talk about remedies. I may be a knowitall but I ain’t no professional. I’m telling my stories and what is working for me. Besides, I trust Your knowitall to point you toward the help your body needs. I continue, slow and determined, to give pain exactly the attention it deserves. No more, no less. I watch for either/or thinking because I’m really good at it but it’s not very helpful. I sort through pain’s baggage to get more accurate information and then I try to remember a very simple thing: I’m not going to be pain free so I will take bites out of the pain I have today. It’s hard, like looking through a glass full of swirling dirty water. Waiting for the silt to settle is the only thing to do in order to see through it. While it’s settling I can check my expectations, especially the one that still waits for Santa, the Easter Bunny, and No Pain. Then I can work to take my pain down a few notches with what’s in my bag of tricks. I have a huge bag, as your chronic pain suffering friends will attest. Oh, that was an interesting discovery as I worked to tackle pain – I became much more aware of invisible disabilities. I always thought I was, seeing myself as an empathetic person and all. But when I finally recognized all that junk accompanying pain, my heart felt like the Grinch’s (during the growing part, not the stealing everything from Whoville part). I became more patient with everyone, especially me. That helps my pain, of course. It’s huge to remember that everyone is fighting a battle, probably without anyone else knowing. With exceptions (sigh), no one sets out to be angry and short-fused, fearful and spent, so maybe if some jerk’s being a real shit I can take a breath and remind myself he might be scheduled for back surgery tomorrow.
Here are some ideas to help pain take a back seat, or at least scoot over.
Learn your pain’s language.
My physical therapist recently said, “hurt, but not harm.” Become knowledgeable to which pain is permanent landscape and needs tending, and which will cause harm without more aggressive intervention. The more we understand pain the more power we have over it. Chronic pain is super weird. Sometimes it’s obvious and it can’t not be addressed. A lot of the time (with me anyway) it’s creepy. All I know is all of a sudden I’m reacting more angrily than I want. Stop and investigate when you notice your go-to emotion running amok. Then slap ice on it.
There’s a philosophy in pain management about dealing with it in 5% chunks. Okay maybe it’s not a Philosophy, and maybe I just read about it a few times on the webs and then somebody professional said, “yeah, makes sense.” Whatever, it’s about baby steps. Prioritize and attend to what you can so that you gain some power over your day. If pain takes up less space at all it’s a win.
Be proactive and flexible.
Flexibility is what got me into this mess <rim shot>! Seriously folks, my body is hypermobile. At least some of it still is, the parts that arthritis isn’t shitting on (see my issue with irony?). As a bendy person I have to gird myself when I move. I was trying to do it with just strength and assholiness but alas, I’ve had to add some elastic and Velcro for when I need extra help. Learn to see the pain potential – paintential (I’m a freaking lexicon, people) – in something and be realistic about proceeding. Realistic, not fearful.
I’m just gonna say it. Radical Acceptance.
I’m not giving up but I’m also pretty sure I know the situation and for now it’s not going away, so best to face it with badass grace. It’ll definitely help in the flexibility department. Not that one. Acceptance isn’t about being a doormat, it’s about being Here. I think Tara Brach coined the term and she’s a good and for real knowitall so read her writing on it. She’s in the webs and on the shelves.
The stuff for pain.
Know and appreciate your arsenal. The less anxiety has to do with pain management, the better. Not having what you need when you need it just makes things worse. My life has some constants (determined personally effective): ibuprofen, cannabis, frozen peas, cbd lotion, braces, tape, lovingkindness, comedy, painting, Bach, meditation, rest.