The Problem of Pain

The Problem of Pain

There is a problem with pain. Other than that it hurts, that is.
The problem is that we each experience pain in a personal and unique way. My pain is not your pain. Pain tolerance and pain thresholds are different for every person.
Not only that, our experiences are different. A man cannot fully understand the pain of a woman in childbirth; a woman cannot fully comprehend the pain of being kicked in the balls. We don’t have comparable parts. Not only that, every birthing experience is different too (for example). I’ve heard of women who have had a pleasurable and even (gasp!) orgasmic birthing experience. I’ve heard of plenty for whom the pain was enough to make them pass out, and scream for days. My own experience of giving birth was one of unimaginable agony. People say you forget the pain when you hold the baby. In my case, this is not true. Perhaps I lack the true maternal spirit.
Pain is the body’s way of communicating that there is something wrong. Whether it is physical or psychological pain, it is a call to change, a call to arms or at the very least a call to investigation. Ignoring pain and carrying on regardless is only ever likely to cause more damage. Those who cannot feel pain continue to damage themselves catastrophically. There are people who declare you must move through pain and that it does not matter. I would imagine few of these have experienced severe, chronic pain. The ability to bear pain is often greater when the pain has a fixed limit (as in childbirth) and one of the hardest things to cope with is not knowing if the pain will have an end at all. While I was coping with severe endometriosis, one thing that kept me sane was knowing that at some point the pain would cease when menopause arrived.
Coping with the extensive pain created by my parathryoid tumour was a tiny bit easier when I knew what was causing the pain, and later, when I had a date to look forward to to get rid of the tumour. It meant I was able to accept the strong pain relief that came in the form of patches for slow release of opiates; had the pain been open-ended and longer term, I could not have risked using the patches.
My Joint Hypermobility Syndrome causes me a lot of pain and fatigue and since it’s not something that can be cured, I now struggle to deal with it. The recent MRI scan has found something else (not something I’m willing to talk about yet) and like the JHS, it too is something that causes pain and weakness. It would seem that pain is something I cannot escape.
One thing that I would ask is that we all start to respect each other’s experiences a bit more. Those who have escaped pain during their lives have a tendency to believe that somehow they are stronger, wiser and more blessed than those suffering pain. Those who exhort others to “move through the pain” or that pain doesn’t matter and we should just ignore it, really need a dose of reality. Pain is one of the constants of life and it’s a mark of our growth as human beings that we can learn to deal with the pain of others in a compassionate way even when it’s not something we have directly experienced.
I’ve not talked about mental or emotional pain at all but to me it goes without saying that mental pain is as debilitating as physical pain. One study I cannot now find did discover that in a significant number of cases a simple dose of paracetamol daily for those suffering depressive illness is more effective than anti-depressants. Mental pain is real; while invisible illnesses can cause horrific pain, it’s still not widely understood how horrific the pain of a mental illness can be. We feel it in the body, too. It’s not “out there” somewhere, but it’s deep inside us.
Pain is a problem. It’s not just my problem. It’s a problem that belongs to us all.

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9 thoughts on “The Problem of Pain

  1. I understand where you are coming from Viv. A place of pain is not easy to share with anyone, least of all people who are lucky enough not to experience it. I am surrounded by people who are embarrassed by illness, to be honest. They are also keen for those with chronic health issues (including mental health) to get on with life, as they don’t like being faced with it on a daily basis. They don’t mean to be unkind, and when they themselves experience it they need our support, as honestly they haven’t got a clue. My mum, at 85, really gets it now. She appreciates some of us ‘get a basin full’ as she puts it. We are the ones in the privileged position as we too get it & genuinely want good health for one another. Take care x

  2. Wise words and positive.. Coping with pain is difficult and we all handle it in different ways. I admire those that admit they are in pain. Doesn’t mean that we shout about it, just face it, understand it and adapt with it… well that’s what I do with my MS pain. Just wish some of it would go away. Blessings to you all.

  3. Hmmm I guess the by-line was bound to catch my eye! Both because of my own condition and, before that disaster occurred to me, my professional experience of folk who were considered a suicide risk because of unremitting pain.
    One or two things I’d like to add/clarify, if you don’t mind Viv?
    One is the difference between nociceptive and neuropathic pain. The first is the sort of pain we all know – a response to an illness or injury; the latter is due to the nerves themselves becoming diseased or injured – diabetes and shingles being the obvious examples. In both cases the pain i.e. the nerve signals passing to the spine or brain, are real and the person is in genuine pain whether an injury is obvious or not.
    The second point is going to sound a bit contentious because it appears to take issue with your passage:
    “… Ignoring pain and carrying on regardless is only ever likely to cause more damage. Those who cannot feel pain continue to damage themselves catastrophically. There are people who declare you must move through pain and that it does not matter. I would imagine few of these have experienced severe, chronic pain”
    – and that is the issue of hyperalgesia – where the nerves become super-sensitised to stimulation. This can occur as a progression of something like diabetes – where the sufferer can’t bear to even have bedclothes touching their feet or legs. Again, the pain is absolutely genuine and very disabling, so I don’t think I’m arguing with the message of your post. But it is the case that this sort of pain does not automatically signal that further physical injury or catastrophe will necessarily occur if activity is continued. What will happen is that this hypersensitivity will escalate on exercise and take a huge mental toll.

    Another form of hyper-algesia was in my own case (and that of others I have met at pain clinics over the last few years), Hyperalgesia/Hypersensitivity was caused by the very drugs given to reduce pain – opiates.
    Nobody told me that I shouldn’t aim to be pain-free on these drugs! The result was that, in order to ensure that I would be, I was consistently taking more than my body needed “in order to be sure” that the flare up would be controlled when it did happen. So for a considerable portion of the day, I had excess drugs swilling around my body. The upshot was first, I became tolerant and needed more when the pain did hit and, second, some of us (and more and more as these drugs are increasingly prescribed) hit a point where an increase in the drug actually causes an increase in the pain! It is really counter-intuitive when a consultant tells you that you need to reduce the pills if you want to get on top of pain and that exercise will not cause further damage. Hope you don’t mind my sharing (at length-sorry)…

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