The Pain Companion, by Sarah Anne Shockey, has a few exercises to explore pain and your relationship to it. (see my review). One of those exercises I would like to explore here and you can also give it a try. Now, all the exercises are worth exploring as you get to understand a lot more about your own pain process, but you’ll have to check out the book for that! This one I have seen in a few formats and it is a good one to understand your frustrations with chronic pain. I have done ones before with migraine and with fibromyalgia, but never to the pain itself.
Write a complaint letter to your pain.
And I mean all out rant. Just get it down. In a way, the process reveals our pain history and the depth of our relationship to pain, in the present moment. And we have to know where we are to ever want to increase our acceptance and coping.
So, here is my complaint letter to chronic pain:
I feel like I have a long history to complain about and even just this day with severe pain that knocked me out for the majority of it. I have had pain of an unusual sort most of my life, but, man you, pain, really cranked that up over time. Adding other pain conditions. More complex symptoms.
It is stabbing, aching, burning, throbbing, gnawing pain I have in different areas. Sometimes my skin is on fire, and even the lightest of touches hurts like hell. Sometimes I have a migraine, throbbing and sharp. And fibromyalgia is always aching and gnawing. The peripheral neuropathy can feel like my bones literally hurt and there are sharp pains when I use my hands moderately. A lot of pains.
And like a force of nature, you destroyed everything in your path. My social life, some lost friends, loss of my academic career, my alternate career, and even now my part-time job. But, oh, I fought you on that, every damn step of the way. I didn’t want you to take, I wanted to endure with myself intact. By you destroyed my self too. My self-identity, my self-worth, and my self-esteem as I began to even doubt my capacity to have any semblance of a life. I was tormented by your unmanaged severity of this endless pain signal. A brain on fire. And I fell into a deep despair. What life is this? I questioned. It is madness to live like this, I thought. And then I tried to end this life, because of you. And then later, I tried again when I realized there is no ‘winning’ for me. Either I try and work and push all the time to confront you, exceeding my limits, tormenting myself, and falling into a dark depression where I have no will to live. Or. I go on leave from work, have debt accumulation, financial instability, and oh so much guilt. I don’t win.
And I can’t win. You’ll be there no matter what. You destroy me, you make me, and you destroy me again. I have to keep putting the fragments back together again. Hating myself for what I am just not capable of but think I Should be.
But I need some sense of life. And when I had modest pain treatment and depression treatment, at least then I didn’t want to die. At least then I could do other things to help manage the suffering, pace your pain, and try to live some sort of life. But the price… that price for living in the gleams of sunshine of lower pain days? Is heavy. Every choice I make and will ever make has consequences. Every choice must be weighed between worth the consequences and pain and worth it to me as a person.
But while I struggle, endlessly with guilt, identity, how to be in the world, and how to solve the problems you have created, I am still me. You couldn’t suffocate me. You couldn’t take me, not completely. I still have my goofy sense of humor. I still write. I still love my life. Even when you have made simple pleasures, like reading, impossible most of the day because You come with Symptoms that I cannot escape.
So, I get it, I won’t win the battle. But I will sometimes gain some ground in coping. And I will sometimes lose some ground when things are too severe to deal with. I can have modest goals. I know enough pain management techniques to help with the immense suffering and physical pain onslaught. And I will learn more. I will find a way to be me; someone who has pain and able to be in the world with it.
You can’t take all of me.
That is my complaint letter to chronic pain. My relationship to pain has evolved a lot of over time. To when it was unmanaged and as a result I was suicidal and depressed. To when it is modest managed, and I am not working, so I am able to cope with it better. It was a long and arduous journey to those two points. And my level of acceptance is greater, I do not blame myself anymore, I do not feel guilty for what I cannot do. I am at the point of finding ways to exist financially with pain and what I can do work this so that I can continue to cope well. My vertigo makes things extremely difficult these days. With a small window in the morning where I can do anything, carefully, to not being able to function at all cognitively. I will find a way to manage this financially.