on chronic pain
Updated: May 14, 2020
THIS MORNING I AM THINKING ABOUT CHRONIC PAIN. Ha. I wrote that by accident in big capitol and bold letters, but when I realized that’s what I did I also realized that’s actually how I feel about it. Chronic pain is like having big bold letters running across your daily life. Each morning I wake up, and within seconds I am aware of my neck, back, hips and recently, the muscles that run along the tops of my hands and arms. I creak to my feet and massage and stretch and crack to prepare my body for another day of life. I do some yoga or dance, which sometimes makes the pain better, but lately there are certain things it makes worse. Today it’s my knees. I say this with an acknowledgement that I am only 30 years old, traditionally physical healthy, and have full mobility in my body. I have no chronic illness or diagnosed physical limitations. That’s a big ass privilege I don’t take lightly.
Sometimes I wake up briefly in the middle of the night and notice that my fists are clenched, my jaw is clenched, and my shoulders are at my ears. I do my best to consciously relax before slipping back into sleep. But I think to myself: is this how I sleep? And if so how can I help my sleeping self relax so that my waking self isn’t internally groaning for most of a day? Were bodies meant to withstand so much stress and tension, and contort into positions over computers and phones and other vehicles for productivity? Is this achey skeleton my body’s natural form? Or was I meant to be something more fluid, more relaxed, softer?
I think there is pain we are meant to endure. Like heartbreak. Grief. And the frustration of learning a new skill. The soreness after joyful exercise or the exhaustion after working hard on something you care about. Empathy for others.
And then there is pain created from carrying all the things I don’t know if we’re supposed to be carrying. The weight of helplessness to fix every injustice in the world, financial stress, social anxiety, comparison and competition, the fight to take up space in the world (or to make that space for others), burn out, extraneous emotional labor, physical labor on behalf of a corporation. The exhaustion of working a lot without very much compensation.
Maybe chronic pain is the body’s way of saying “this isn’t what I am meant for.”
I’m sorry body, I don’t know how to get us back there yet, back to what we’re made for.
In the meantime I will try to be gentle with you and massage and stretch and crack and soak when you ask me to.
And together, we’ll hopefully find a way back.