I believe in pain. I wanted to believe in knowledge or understanding or something lofty, but in looking deep down, pain is what I got.
Before—when I was healthy—I experienced pain but I believed in the paper cut or twisted ankle or infection that caused the pain. Now that I’ve been living with chronic pain for several years, I know what it can really do. I know how pain can feed on itself, growing and spreading in seemingly inexplicable ways. I know how pain can strike at the brain, removing all capacity for thought or reason. And I know how pain can enclose a life, isolating the sufferer in an emotional prison of anger and shame.
As I have come to know pain I have also come to love it, not for itself but for the power it gives me. When the pain comes as I expect, I welcome it because it means that I have some control. It means that my body is still mine, even though I am limited by my condition. Unfortunately, I still go through times when the pain pounces on me without warning, wracking my body and destroying my confidence. Then I hate the pain, but I do not fight it. Not anymore. Now, I negotiate with it, quieting it gently. Drugs and physical therapy help with this, but it’s the mindset that counts. Acknowledging my pain has allowed me to take back some of my life.
It’s also made me think hard about other people’s pain. Believing as I did, only in the causes of pain, I had plenty of compassion for those who were dispossessed, through poverty, discrimination, or physical damage. Most of those people lived far away from me & my middle class American life. The people who were close to me, who had no excuses, were the ones I chose to judge. With all my attention focused on the façade of my own perfection, I absent-mindedly took aim at other’s foibles. Sometimes I would try to fix people, other times, I would put them down. In either case, I could not recognize their pain, or understand that their experience of pain might be as powerful as my own.
Now that I’ve had to confront my limitations—not just physical, but intellectual & emotional as well—I’m trying to cut back on the scathing remarks and the sage advice. It’s a tricky business, much like managing my physical pain. I sometimes forget and slip back into the habits of many years. But the pain is always there, reminding me that life is different now. Had I known it was coming, I’d have shut the door on pain, lessons or no. That said, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in spite of this pain and proud of what I have learned from it. So, unwilling but undaunted, I believe in pain
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