I failed my pain clinic class. Pathetic, like flunking kindergarten! Simply put, I couldn't sit through it – physically, not mentally. But I was there long enough to see the other participants, hear their stories, see the despair on their faces, the dragging exhaustion in their bodies. So I was particularly infuriated to read a smug article in the Sunday paper. The expert interviewed believes that chronic pain “is not a mystery.” And that “people with chronic pain have psychological habits that keep them hyper-aware of their pain.”
Not a word about the fact that under the onslaught of continuous severe pain, the brain rewires and becomes itself hypersensitive, which renders the pain chronic. My pain specialist emphasized that again only last week. This expert must be in cahoots with the pain clinic doctor who advises his patients' families to ignore them and, if necessary, step over them if they are writhing in pain on the floor – so as not to encourage their pain behaviour.
Yes, I learned early that the one area I can control is my reaction to my pain. But it is hard and exhausting work. Every day you have to be resolutely positive and make the most of diminishing returns. You have to balance what you can realistically do against what you would like to do. You opt out of things, not to nurture a suffering disposition, but often so as not to spoil others' fun.
That's why, on holiday with the grandchildren last summer, I waved them off on a preservation steam train trip and welcomed them back with their bubbling enthusiasm. I spent the day lying down with heat and ice, trying to recover from the transatlantic flight. Did I do it for the fun of self-pity, NO! It was so as not to be a drag or to have to bring them back early and so that I might hopefully be OK to do an outing the next day. I watched the video of it all with a loving heart, but cannot see any psychological advantage to me in missing a day's fun.
I do wonder why people with pain are treated as if they are somehow complicit. Little credit is given for coping with the types of devastating loss of hopes and quality of life that I saw at the pain clinic seminar. Yet we are tolerant of the many diseases today that stem from lifestyle choices, from overweight or lack of exercise. Seems a double standard.