a little essay about pain.

Pain isn’t something people like to talk about; chronic pain even less so. Usually when someone asks how we’re doing, most people respond “okay” or “fine” but there are days when we’d all rather be honest, maybe scream instead. Chronic pain is like this: every morning it’s the first thing I think of when I wake up – where it hurts, how much it will hurt if I move, how much if I get out of bed, walk to the bathroom, take a shower, maybe go to the gym. It’s there when I’m at work, at lunch, out with friends (if I can go out), and there when I get home: which chair will hurt less to sit in & getting in to bed at night – how will that feel, how best to ready myself for the sudden sharp pain/s when I lie down. I’m a good sleeper and some doctors, friends, random observers have suggested this means my pain is “manageable.” Sure, just like a Doberman slobbering on a lead is manageable, just like the Climate Crisis is manageable. My pain is both a constant part of me (like my blood, bones, heart) and a separate entity. Like my PTSD, it’s an ever-present enemy but so deeply woven into my body and brain metaphors fail: a parasite, a disease, a “condition.” Recently someone suggested that I “must be healed by now” because I’m active: I walk to and from work most day, I walk during most lunch hours, I work out, I hike, I go to the beach. If I’m active does this mean I’m not in pain? No. It means I’m fighting – every day, every moment, every time I stand up to stretch or walk or sometimes, when it’s bad, even when I breathe. Chronic pain, like PTSD, is a lonely place. We experience it on our own. No one can know how I feel when I feel it, and no one understands – not really. I have a therapist – a lovely woman – who nods & smiles & sometimes guides our sessions in various helpful directions. But while I believe in the power of therapy, it’s really a Band-Aid on a giant gaping wound – another poor metapher.  Some have suggested that I’m “too dramatic” and somehow “acting” my pain, my disability, my PTSD. Avoiding the initial visceral anger, the pure white rage I feel when I hear words like this, I just breathe and try to move on. What I really want to say is how much I wish that for just one day, I could be pain-free, free of vertigo,  free of fear, and immune to triggers. There is guilt that accompanies my pain: a feeling that I should be “healed by now,” that somehow chronic pain is my fault. But I try, most times, not to listen to that guilt or the guilt that tells me I have no right to suffer from PTSD: I haven’t been in combat (unless being a pedestrian in NYC counts as a form of combat) & I didn’t serve as a First Responder at Ground Zero. But people experience trauma in different ways & recover in different ways. Some days I can walk the busy streets of Manhattan & tell myself I’m strong; often that feeling is broken into shards by the wail of a siren, a rush of feet, a barking dog, a bicycle, a crowded subway. Mostly it’s the sirens that get to me – that wail and then I sway and spin & have to reach for a wall, a lamppost, a quiet corner. And some days I can barely make it home from work – desperate for the quiet space on the other side of my double dead-bolted door where the only danger is pain. And no one understands this, not really. Unless they’ve felt it themselves, unless they wake up in pain and walk in pain every day. No one.