Here is this post, reposted for the THIRD time. This account is always well received, and there might be some current readers who missed it the first two times. So, here it is published in two parts – tomorrow is the personal account of an experience one night while in hospital.
I’ve returned to read the whole thing in the recent past as I continue to deal with pain. Thanks to Anna, once again.
This article was first published in October 2009. There were many helpful and appreciative comments left at that first publication. Since pain seems to have become a bit of a theme it seems good to draw attention to this Guest Post.
Introduction Due to orthopaedic surgeries and treatments I have been dealing with long periods of excessive physical pain. Because of my body’s condition, being without pain is a rare thing in general. So training with pain is a necessity. The following is an excerpt of sorts, some bits and pieces on my personal dealings with pain. I guess what I am learning in the process is in essence applicable to any form of difficulty or adversary we may encounter in daily life.
When in hospital, several times a day, you are asked to assess your pain level by giving it a rating between 0 and 10, zero being no pain, ten being unbearable pain. This made me reflect on the meaning of unbearable. There have been a lot of times that the agony I was in completely filled the whole of consciousness, excluding all else, and I felt it was utterly unbearable. But having reached unbearable nothing much happens really, you do not drop dead, you do not explode to pieces, you do not vanish out of existence. Having reached unbearable you just continue to live, your heart simply continuing to beat. The truth is, despite the agony being unbearable you continue to bear it anyway. So however excessive, I thought it would be contrary to the truth to rate my pain a level 10, since if it was truly unbearable I reckon I would have dropped dead. I think this is an important distinction to be aware of when dealing with all kinds of stuff: to see clearly how something feels, how your experience of it is and then how that relates to the truth of how things really are, the bigger reality.
Room for complaint
There is a difference between mild to reasonably severe pain and truly excessive pain in the way it affects the mind. With excessive pain there is no escape, it nails your consciousness immovably to a single point, that is, the now, The Reality Of Pain, that reality excludes all else. One has no option but to face it without flinching and to endure, whether you think you are capable of it or not. With milder forms of pain, there is more room for distraction, room for escape in familiar forms like being grumpy, feeling sorry for oneself, complaining. When I catch myself complaining sometimes, I smile and think “Actually, if I have room for complaint, I am doing not too bad!”
I should say that the above way of differentiating is for internal use only. I don’t think you can reverse it to make inferences about someone else’s pain based on their “complaint level.” That would be trying to step in another’s shoes, which — apart from being impossible — does not really help and can lead to a judgmental attitude, which in turn is bound to heavily tax whatever is going on.
There is nothing that drains your energy more than chronic pain that lasts and lasts without giving you a break. This can be quite exhausting and depressing. What helps me to get through bleak times is to find helpful distractions that lift the mood like watching movies and television or chatting to friends and ways of relaxing the body as much as possible to minimize the accumulation of tension and stress. But by far the main thing that preserves your resilience in a situation of ceaseless pain is to not give in to gloomy thoughts, to stay focused and to keep looking at the distinction between the feelings, the experience of the now and the truth, the bigger reality of how things really are. Not losing sight of the bigger reality prevents the mind from getting into isolation where you feel all alone in your agony. I guess that loneliness is the most unbearable of all and can make you apathetic or spiral you down into the pits of depression and despair.