The Mind of Chronic Pain

“A man’s spirit can sustain his broken body, but when spirit dies, what hope is left?” — Proverbs 18:14

Syncline by Kim Buck.

Syncline, Artist Kim Buck

Chronic pain is a peculiar condition because it’s two-sided in nature. Like two halves of a coin it reels its nefarious head on one hand, yet allows space for considerable growth on the other. There is an acute response when chronic pain hits. Thoughts such as:

  • “What if I can’t get through this meeting?”
  • “What if I can’t get up out of this chair? People will see, they’ll think I’m a freak!”
  • “I can’t stand here much longer. Can they tell? They don’t seem to notice. What if I just dropped to the floor right now.”
  • “What will I wake up to today? My schedule is too full to be down.”
  • “If I cancel on them again I won’t be invited anymore but I can’t fake my way through this today.”
  • “If people knew about this they’ll just think I’m a wimp and can’t handle pain.”

The mind races when chronic pain flares. Panic sets in for a moment. It feels like you’re alone, as if nobody sees what you’re going through… or cares for that matter. The moment passes, and you carry on, wave it away, hoping to get through the day. That, by the way, is the built-in survival mechanism we have as people. But truly, going through this alone means you’re very strong!

The malicious thing about chronic pain is it strikes at the very personality of a person. Someone who has every intention and history of being friendly, reliable, consistent, responsible, now can’t help but miss out on a party or cancel a plan last-minute when pain takes over. A once outgoing and personable person begins to turn inward, withdrawn, unsure. Feelings of being slightly neurotic set in along with guilt. “People think I’m rude. I’m a disappointment.” It’s a horrible feeling being misunderstood.

And let’s be honest, society struggles with people in chronic pain. Society is about momentum and velocity. There’s not time to stop. There are plans to carryout, experiences to enjoy. Funny that “experiences” seem to be lumped into an arena of Fun and Play. Life IS experience. It’s All Experience. The chronic pain you’re experiencing right now, dear reader, Is Your Experience. Are you feeling ignored or passed by? Take the time you have – it’s a precious commodity these days – and capitalize on it. Use the solitude to your advantage to create something you otherwise wouldn’t have.

So there’s a flip-side to chronic pain: it really is a tool if you know how to wield it. Those who fall in the chronic pain camp share company with fertile, creative, witty, and dynamic comrades. Overcomer’s who have used their isolation to their advantage: Cynthia McFadden, Kathleen Turner, George Clooney, Doc Holliday, Robert Louis Stevenson, George MacDonald, A.E. Knoch, and many more. Whatever your opinion of these people they didn’t succumb to their condition mentally. They used it to their advantage. Does this seem sadistic? Perhaps. But as John Watson said to Sherlock Holmes, at least in the movie version, “This game is designed to hurt.” That statement seems to summarize the human condition. Nature reinforces this if you look all around. From plants to animals to humans, any type of growth comes from a hardship. Typically we are told to feel “full of life” for most of our years. Yet we are the human machine all designed with programmed obsolescence, some just have parts running differently than others. Anyone who goes through a hardship or trauma emerges on the other side speaking of the growth and increased wisdom and understanding they now have. The isolation of chronic pain affords the “sufferer” that very gift: introspection. For it really is a gift. In this super fast-paced lifestyle we have, who has time to stop and simply, think? For those who don’t suffer from chronic pain, I’ve heard them comment about those they know that do with such thoughts as, “They seem wise beyond their years” and “they have a quiet strength about them.” A hard price to pay, but it seems this is what Life is about – growing mature in wisdom and understanding to be better equipped with compassion for your fellow human. At least, I’d like to think that is not an outdated notion.

Carmen Satre, LMT, CMMT, CMLDTSo what’s the point of this entry? None really. This isn’t about quick fixes or solutions or processes. No, I simply want you to feel understood and heard. To know that when you come in my door you are seen and appreciated for who you are. Don’t apologize for what you have. Don’t make excuses. And by all means don’t try to hide it! I know, I understand, and I experience. As a friend of mine said to me once, “You’re so much more fascinating than those conditions. It’s a part of who you are, but it isn’t who You are.” The hour booked in a massage space is about more than muscle work. It’s one hour of serenity out of a stressful life where you unplug, are understood, and take sixty long minutes to just rest and be a little restored inside and out. That’s all.

See you on the table, dear one!