Pain management and meaning

If you are not in pain, don't read this. Don't imagine pain: it will get under your skin and it might grow in unexpected ways.  This post is for people who are coping with pain, people who don't have to imagine how pain concentrates your perceptions while making it hard to focus your thoughts. This is for people who know how words fail when some part of your body is suffering and someone asks you to describe the pain.

If this is for you, then imagine that you can see someone who looks and sounds like you, someone who is experiencing that same pain that you are experiencing. You might notice the tension across that person's forehead, the clenching of the jaw, the breath that is not quite rhythmic. You might be aware that the body twists or tilts at an awkward angle, that something is unbalanced. You might notice, as though it were happening to someone else, someone far off in the distance, that all parts of that person are involved in the experience of pain.

But that person is not you. You are the person who is reading this and watching that other person. Some part of you is thinking. Some part of you is asserting your desire to focus your thoughts on an outcome that is pain free, an outcome so separate from the pain that the pain does not exist while you think those other thoughts and those other thoughts could not exist if you were truly fully involved in the pain.

So you notice the thoughts and you notice the pain, not at the same time, but one after the other. And the part of you that is involved in the pain has no words for the pain, except perhaps those short curses that we repeat, sharply and quickly, as though somehow we are building a wall or pounding at the pain that is pounding at us. In this moment, it is absurd to think of managing pain. We do not want it managed. We want it gone.

But there is that other part, that watching, considering, outcome-forming part of us that drifts away and considers. And that part wonders how to fit language to the experience, how to use the limits of language to contain the pain, wonders whether it is burning or tearing or aching. Wonders how to know what it means and where it begins and if it will end. And if it doesn't end, what then?

Then there will be a moment when you will decide. You will decide to set your mind to those things you knew were important outside the pain, outside the body. And this will not distract you enough, will not allow you to out-think the pain, will not corral it or manage it.  But. . .

You will come to realize that the pain cannot be managed. But you can manage with the pain; and you can manage to find the edges and to pull your vision back and back so that you see that the pain has limits and edges and boundaries.  And yet, no matter how far back you pull, you will not find limits and edges and boundaries around you.

You will be bigger than your field of vision. And in that moment, in the freedom of that big, big vision, you may stop trying to manage anything at all. For just a fraction of a second, you may hold a meaning you would not have discovered were it not for the pain.


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