Monday, December 27, 2010

In the End: It Just Is

I know little about the physiology of pain - the neural pathways, the synapses, the receivers and transmitters of pain signals - some sense, some medical mumbo-jumbo. I understand a little more about the psychology of pain, acute and chronic, which both aids and hinders us humans along the path of illness and hopefully, wellness.

It's possible we humans do not possess identical pain processing plants. It's certain that we humans perceive, and therefore, feel pain on radically different scales of agony. That we perceive pain differently is widely accepted. Why we perceive pain differently is universally questioned.

And so we are left with this: pain is relative. There can be no hierarchy of pain because there is no constant template from which to establish a frame or point of reference.

The pain you perceive to feel is as real as and as *painful* as you believe it to be. You are your brain and your body. You cannot escape this simple fact. You cannot compare yourself to another or your affliction to another's. You are not stronger or weaker or braver or more cowardly than other sufferers. You just are. Your pain just is. Or isn't.

Medical practitioners and caregivers know this - they are willing to treat and mitigate your pain without judgment. Enlist them when you need to and discharge then when you don't.

As I've written: In the end, it is only you. You, and what you can bear.

"There is a psychology to any illness, whether you have chicken pox or a broken leg. There is a particular psychology to a progressive illness or disease, one in which the pain, loss of mobility, and exhaustion are all framed in a race against the clock. The matter of you walking or not, or living or not, is a matter of time and timely treatment and, occasionally, of timely miracles." So I once wrote.

I don't profess to know much about illness on the whole but even in my short journey, I fell victim to the sudden sense of isolation that envelops one when sick or injured. We've all had a bad cold and spent a sick day or two in bed with tissues and a book. Remember the feeling you had when you eventually showered and dressed and went back to work and life. It seemed like you had been away for ages. It may have only taken a few minutes or perhaps an entire morning before you slid back into your routine, but for a short time, you felt the tiny stab of knowledge that the world marched along without you. Unaware and unconcerned.

For those with lengthy or terminal illnesses or injuries, you begin to feel like a ghost in the outside world, neither fully present, nor completely absent.

The reasons for your phantom existence are multi-fold but mainly it is because you feel terrible and unable. Participating in regular life might highlight or antagonize your disability. Worse, you might utter a complaint or an audible moan of pain. You want neither to be a martyr nor be viewed as one.

You sometimes believe and behave as if it is easier to stay home, to be alone, to not have to ask, explain, or negotiate what should be simple things, like small talk in the grocery store or ladies' baking night. Of course, this is what life is - but it suddenly seems so daunting, and tiring.

Illness is a state of mind and body.

Everyone has a support network. They may or may not be individuals or organizations that you automatically identify as such. It may be your spouse but it could also be your aerobics class or your dog.

Even your standard definition of support may be unrecognizable. It might be in the form of drug therapy, aromatherapy, or laugh therapy. It might be more concrete, like a buying an automatic can opener when the task finally becomes insurmountable.

You may desperately seek out support, reject it outright, grudgingly accept it, or fall into it, as I did.

My wise advice: When any such supportive form begins to make itself recognizable to you, embrace it and surround yourself with it. Don't abuse it but don't feel guilty about drawing strength and assistance from it either, whenever necessary.

There's no great epiphany here. I haven't seen the end of the world. I've just explored more terrain and foreign topography.

Some clich├ęs: I am learning how to be grateful, more patient, less judgmental, more helpful, lighter, freer.

I am learning that cold, damp winters will be hard. I am a 40-year old with the hands of an arthritic octogenarian.

I am learning that I can bear more than I realize but not as much as I thought.

I am learning that there are many causes and reasons for a person's appearance and behaviour.

I am learning that everyone bears some pain in some form.

I am learning that good and bad can come at anytime in equal or unequal measure and that *fair* is a myth.

I am learning how to age.

I am learning how to accept.

I am learning It Just Is:
(Summertime in England - Van Morrison. I know Van doesn't approve of this whole file-sharing thing, so I hope he'll forgive me this one time. Long before KD, this was one of my favorite-all-time-celebrate-life-with-wisdom songs. Wise man, Van. It's 15 minutes long - close your eyes and just be.)

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