Scripts for Pain

It’s going to be one of those cycles, I can tell. The kind where no matter what I do, I feel like death on a stale cracker. And if the previous 15 years of my life are any indicator, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. It kind of sucks in its own right, yes, but it’s also confusing when juxtaposed with societal scripts for dealing with pain.

Prescription bottle and two white pills.

For example, there’s the succinct, “No pain, no gain,” which seems to view pain as something productive and beneficial. Now, when I am running the last minute of a cardio workout or pushing myself through just one more traveling plank, I understand this mentality a lot. If my purpose is to build strength or endurance, then it makes sense to push myself to explore beyond what I can comfortably endure right now. The hope is the next time I push myself to that same place, the pain will be less; that is my gain.

However, this really only seems to work when gain is part of the intent and when the pain involved is self-directed and controlled. I don’t mean that I tell my running body, “Shins, you will hurt like fuck now, and through the burning in my legs, I will become a faster athlete.” But I do make the choice to run faster. I decide how much faster and for how long, and if something is not going the way I planned, I can alter that choice at any time and have my pain subside accordingly.

When the pain is out of my direction and control, I don’t know WTF I’m supposed to be gaining.

The flip truism is, “Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong,” which brings with it the assumption that the “something wrong” should be found and then fixed. Because, you know, bodies in pain are “wrong.”

And I can’t get behind that, not as a universal. Certainly there are causes of acute pain — wearing ill-fitting running shoes, backbending without enough support, etc. — where a relatively quick fix is a good and viable option. There are also other causes of pain, some acute, some chronic, that can be managed by various means. I am a big fan of pain management, trust me.

But all medicine has limits and costs. Sometimes the limits mean the pain is unmanageable. Sometimes the costs are unacceptable. I’m having some of those days. But as much as I am not enjoying dealing with this, the pain does not mean that my body is “wrong.” Treating my body as a problem-solution essay — embarking on a quest for Magic Pain Relief that may not exist — doesn’t do me any favors and usually wears me down in the long run.

Which is why the adage, “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” scares me. It’s back on the, “No pain, no gain,” bandwagon, only it goes several steps further. Now, not only am I supposed to be embracing pain in hopes of gain, but I am supposed to be doing so up to the point of death?

Really?

I’m sure there are plenty of folk who’d say (complete with italics), “It’s just a saying. You don’t have to take it so literally.”

And maybe I don’t.

But maybe I’ve had dozens of medical professionals either deny pain outright or else acknowledge it but fail to help. Maybe I’ve spent countless sleepless nights wondering how I’m going to function the next day and keep my job and/or stay in school. Maybe I’ve found myself crying by the side of the road because I can’t sit up and don’t know how I’m going to drive home. Maybe I’ve found myself desperate, looking at those two pills I know really shouldn’t be taken together, and tempted, hoping it might be okay, just this one time.

So maybe I do have to take it a little more literally than most.

Also, while none of these thoughts and experiences have killed me, I don’t know that they’ve made me stronger, which is sort of the issue — a lot of these lines, they are bullshit. I’d just… I’d like a way to mentally cope with pain that doesn’t make my body the enemy but also doesn’t delude me.

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I'm here. I like stuff. Some other stuff, I like less.

Posted in MenstroMonster, non-asana
5 comments on “Scripts for Pain
  1. Sarah says:

    “But maybe I’ve had dozens of medical professionals either deny pain outright or else acknowledge it but fail to help. Maybe I’ve spent countless sleepless nights wondering how I’m going to function the next day and keep my job and/or stay in school. Maybe I’ve found myself crying by the side of the road because I can’t sit up and don’t know how I’m going to drive home. Maybe I’ve found myself desperate, looking at those two pills I know really shouldn’t be taken together, and tempted, hoping it might be okay, just this one time. ”

    You know that moment that is the whole point of reading other people’s writing, when you recognize a reflection of yourself, when a turn of phrase tells you something you thought you were the only one to think, in a way you never would have thought to say it? That was it!

  2. Susannah says:

    I really, really felt you on this. I love your blog, it’s the single best yoga blog I’ve read. But this post really hit home.

    Let me share where I’m coming from. I’m on year four of endometriosis and fibromyalgia, appearing together as a double act! Hurray chronic pain! I’m also a doula, that is, I support women through labor, so I suppose you might say that I’m a pain specialist from both sides.

    Labor pain is very much like the pain you describe, of nothing being really wrong, but rather, just what you get. Labor pain has the advantage of being clearly working towards an end, and cyclic pain’s end is not so clear cut, but of course it is your body doing its work. Not that that helps sometimes.

    This is something I’m trying to cope with, too, but here’s what I’ve got: Your body isn’t the enemy. Your body is right there with you, trying to feel her way through this inscrutable shithole of a place. You also don’t need to bullshit yourself with noises about gain and being stronger from this, although you may well add to your wishes that this pain could bring you into another place spiritually. All I really have personally is that the pain reminds me that my primary purpose is to breathe, and sometimes I’m lucky enough to be able to observe my pain and my reaction to it. Yoga has been a godsend for me here.

    Anyway, I know you wrote this a few days ago, but I needed to tell you that you really touched me. It’s so clear to me that you know the drill, the drill I’m living so frequently and so pointlessly. Thank you, thank you, I pray for you when I pray for me.

  3. Paraxeni says:

    Oh those two pills that should never be mixed… I remember thinking on more than a handful of occasions “Fuck it. If I die, I die. Would it be so bad? How could it be worse than this?”. My only real fear was of not dying, and of ending up in hospital surrounded by people who would think it was a case of parasuicide or self harm, and treat me accordingly.

    You’re still a source of a sort of amazement in my my mind, because you get it. You’ve done the six-pad shuffle, the two-tampon tango, the dancing out of everything from school to social events with polite excuses, knowing that the mention of the Monster would bring cries of “I knooow, OMG one time I soaked through my pad” or “Once I had cramps so bad I needed to take THREE paracetamol instead of two!” Better not to mention it.

    Keep on being fabulous!

  4. […] freely.) I wrote some good shit there, and it was painful. But I also think this was pain in a purposeful, cleansing way, and I was better for working through […]

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