“One of the hardest things about being chronically ill is that most people find what you’re going through incomprehensible—if they believe you are going through it. In your loneliness, your preoccupation with an enduring new reality, you want to be understood in a way that you can’t be. “Pain is always new to the sufferer, but loses its originality for those around him,” the nineteenth-century French writer Alphonse Daudet observes in his account of living with syphilis, “In the Land of Pain.” “Everyone will get used to it except me.”
— -New Yorker, “What’s Wrong With Me?”
In the land of pain… everybody will get used to it but me. That sentence there makes a lot of sense to me. It is rather true isn’t it that pain is always with us but loses its ‘freshness’ to those around us. We can’t really keep saying ‘hey, by the way this still damn well hurts’ because it just loses ‘meaning’ and we become ‘complainers’. We are trapped in this essence of experience and language fails us.
And in this constant experiential reality you do want to somehow express what is incomprehensible. Like trying to explain color to the colorblind you cannot quite cross this barrier. You are locked in this pain land but they live somewhere else. In another realm. You can try to say ‘In this land the rules and laws of my existence run like this…’ but in the end the rules of the land they live in are so very different it is hard to grasp the reality you live in. Maybe they might just understand your framework but not why you cannot bend the rules, change the laws and eventually come back to their land. I live in the land of pain and I don’t want to. I want to go to your land but I never will. I’ll always be this side of the border with my rules and laws to follow.
And in the land of pain… pain is always part of the framework. Always on the mind. Always present in the moment. Always interfering with reality. That is something people cannot comprehend that is a very simple fact. Pain is Always there and to a minor, moderate or major degree interfering with every aspect of life one can think of. Because we are quite used to it, we can mask it, get around it in some degree, function with it to some degree… but it has an influence all the time. Hovering there in the background. When you have a conversation, it is there, making you stumble with words or forget facts or affects your short term and long term memory or makes you a real zombie. Do you get used to this constant companion? Yes and no. You do in the sense that you begin to cope with it; your limits and moderating your activities. You learn to hide it. You learn to function through levels a normal person would not tolerate. Yet you cannot get ‘used’ to it like you might an annoying symptom. Pain is unique in that it is a symptom that demands attention. Demands and demands and demands. While you may function with certain levels of it, and hide it well from others… you are not ‘ignoring’ it… your mind is aware of it and compromised by that awareness. It is saying ‘I’m in this amount of pain and also doing this activity or having this conversation’… the more pain the more focus and concentration is lost to the pain. We can never be ‘used’ to it because our Awareness of it is constant, even if we ‘function’ with the minor and moderate levels of it. It is really quite a simple concept. If your stomach growls you become aware you are hungry. If it growled all the time, it would be something you would be aware of. Pain being this demanding sensation is not normally there, when it is chronic it is a chronic demand… more pain more demand. So more awareness is taken away from your mind, your focus, consternation when pain is present. Studies have shown how it impairs short term, long term and working memory. Not exactly shocking results, but people seem to just not think about how constant pain can impact a person constantly. And… that is just on their awareness. That is not even talking about lifestyle impact, career impact, social life, emotional, mental, financial, overall well-being and quality of life. How pain leads to suffering and suffering has an impact.
It is our very capacity to function with the minor and moderate levels and mask it behind our facade of well-being… these aspects we must learn to survive in the world with chronic pain that makes it lose its originality to those around us. For if we do not appear to constantly suffer, then we must not be suffering, right? Not only is it impossible for someone to comprehend chronic pain because it is beyond their experience but they cannot observe the behaviors they know to expect from pain with people who have chronic pain… so then they cannot see how much we suffer, they fail to understand the level of pain we experience everyday if we can seem to tolerate it, language fails us because words have no power without the pain behaviors to back them. Yes, indeed, you just cannot say ‘Hey I’m still in pain here’… it just loses its meaning.
In the land of pain… everybody will get used to it but me.