Dancing to Chronic Pain’s Wicked Beat
Like a billion and a half other people in the world, I experience chronic pain. It is as unstoppable as the seasons, and I have given up plotting against it. However, the aura of acceptance that surrounds my pain does nothing to block it. It hurts, with varying degrees, nearly every hour of nearly every day. And, to boot, it wakes me up most nights.
If this sounds like a hellish existence to you, then chances are you do not suffer from chronic pain. If you did, hellish is probably not the word you’d reach for — even though this would be an apt description some days. You would have learned that such exaggeration adds an unnecessary layer of pain, a psychological component that can submerge an already-floundering pain sufferer. Having experienced this double whammy at the onset of my physical symptoms, I can attest to its destructive power. It is like being knocked to the canvas and then stomped on.
Had someone told me that my life would some day evolve into such a painful enterprise, I might have said my final goodbyes, smoked a deliciously guilt-free final cigarette, and jumped off a bridge. But imagination has little in common with the realities it attempts to touch. I work, I play, I engage in intimate relationships, and in general lead a productive life — all while accommodating the continuous presence of my pain. It is like being the parent of a demanding 2-year-old who never ages.
The good news about my pain is that it doesn’t usually knock me completely out of action. I often still can attend social functions, and usually without anyone knowing why I am clenching my jaw and flashing an S.O.S. expression at my significant other.
“Well, then how bad could it be?” you might ask.
You see, that’s the bad news, being cursed with a condition that doesn’t quite make me howl. If my pain were such that it would hospitalize me or confine me to my home — and my heart goes out to those who have been dealt this hand — no one would confuse my absence at a social event with an unwillingness to be there. But because my condition does not require an extreme level of care, such absences come with an asterisk.
“Oh Lord, not that excuse again,” I imagine people groaning between gulps at the hors d’oeuvres table. “Someone who looks so healthy couldn’t possibly be so sickly.”
This is largely my fault. People are mystified by my faulty physiology because I rarely discuss it. For me it is a pointless conversation. It’s there, it will always be there, I don’t like it, but there it is. And when it does come up in conversation, often the responses fall into two categories: sympathy bordering on pity (ugh), or competing pain stories (grr) meant to establish a common bond. I nod back empathetically, knowing that I’d be yodeling in the shower if I could trade places with them.