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Adjusting my focus

  • Posted by Donimo
  • 11 Dec 07, 11:08 AM

Image by Donimo

A Victorian-era doctor and nurse scrutinize a small child sitting on a bed. The child has a look of consternation on its face. In fancy script in a word balloon, the doctor is saying, “Have you tried not focusing on it so much?”

I’ve had chronic pain for 25 years and have gone to my fair share of pain management clinics. I’ve seen a whole whack of doctors who have strong opinions on how I can best manage my pain. The consensus among the professionals seems to be that I shouldn’t think about it, really. And I should definitely not allow pain to become “the centre of my life.” Now, I can understand that if I go around all day thinking, “Oh, my back, my aching back, my aching back…” then I will notice my back pain more and it will feel worse. But I have to challenge this push to get people to disassociate from their pain and the reality of it in their lives. When you have unrelenting pain, it does become central in your life and facing that truth head-on seems healthier than trying to pretend that your pain is secondary and you are just like everyone else.

I mean, even on a basic level, good luck trying not to think about it when you have 25 different exercises to do throughout the day, certain foods to eat or avoid, a bunch of pills and supplements to take at specific times and twice daily, mandatory pain management meditation. Try not to think about it when you have to coordinate every activity in your day based on your pain or how an activity might impact your pain. Things generally don’t just happen when you have significant pain—there’s a lot of planning and pondering involved. It’s right there in the middle of your day and your night.

I have to ask: why shouldn’t this a central part of who I am? If pain is at the centre, do the doctors think that it will swamp everything else? Are we allowed to have only one thing at the centre? Can’t I be an artist and someone with chronic pain? There are lots of things at the core of who I am. In fact, I find that by allowing my pain—and all that it means in my life—to be acknowledged, I have found more peace and strength and connection than I ever did when I was trying hard to push it to the side.

Oh yes, I tried it their way and it didn’t work. I ended up feeling ashamed when I couldn’t keep thoughts about the pain out of my head or when I couldn’t keep up with others. I couldn’t acknowledge that I had a disability. I was so hell-bent on being “normal” that I wasn’t as fully myself as I could have been. It was exhausting.

I believe it’s healthy to think about a life lived in pain. Focusing on it gives me the strength to open up to people in a deep and authentic way; it helps me connect with others who share my experiences; it helps me honestly acknowledge grief and it allows me to gather resources to help me survive this difficult journey. It makes me stronger. It makes me more in control and aware and complex.

Welcome to pain “central.”

• Visit Chronic Holiday and Body of Work

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  • 1.
  • At 04:56 PM on 11 Dec 2007, andy wrote:

There are some wise thoughts/words in this written opinion!!

Society tends to look down on those of us with pain and say we are weak/need to be stronger!

An honest talk can sometimes make anyone realise that perhaps continual problems/pain, actually can make the individual a "stronger" person.

Anyone who thinks that pain can be ignored has obviously never dealt with 24 hour pain. It requires constant thought in order to get you through the day! Life requires planning with reference to the pain. If I spent all my time trying to ignore it then I'd never get anything done!

  • 3.
  • At 09:52 AM on 13 Dec 2007, kira wrote:

Very well put. There is a difference between pain being your all consuming identity and the proper and careful planning that is involved with living with chronic pain with bouts of acute pain thrown in.

I spent a long time trying to ingore it and getting on despite it, it was exhausting and didn't work, pain was front and center of my world while I was trying really hard to ignore it and push it out. Now I've accepted it's reality and work around it, it actually has less of a dominating effect on my life. The pain has not gone, but no longer wasting a lot of mental effort trying to block it out.

Yep, when I was having migraines all the time, pain sure did define me, and was central to my life. Now that I'm more stable, it's still central, but plays a smaller role.

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