Five months pregnant, and my body has kicked in with some vicious pain. The left side of me is entirely unscathed. But on the right side, something’s going on between my back and my hip that’s making it excruciating to sit, stand, lie down or walk. So the last few days has got me thinking about something I don’t usually have to think about at all: pain. Some thoughts that have come up over the last week about this.
1. The opposite of pain isn’t pleasure. The opposite of pain is just direct experience, unmediated by the ongoing physical interference of pain-experience.
2. Pain is both an experience of its own, and an interference in the way of other experience. You become a bit split focus with pain. You notice the pain experience. And you ignore the pain experience in order to continue with normal life.
3. To everyone else it sometimes looks like you’re grimacing at them through a dark curtain they can’t see.
4. Pain is entirely, totally subjective. I have absolutely no idea whether my excruciating pain is your middle-to-bearable pain.
5. Even though the opposite of pain isn’t pleasure, the relief of pain, by contrast, can feel like bliss. This might be worth remembering about ordinary experience. You have bliss, and you haven’t noticed, because there isn’t any pain to compare it to.
6. Pain isn’t a punishment. Non-pain isn’t a reward. It could just be the way the baby is lying this week. It could be that a ligament has stretched slightly out of kilter, pushing on a nerve. Causes can be so random.
7. Pain forces you to slow down and pay attention. Every step requires attention. People who walk past look at you to check what’s going on. You look back. Pain forces a lot more human acknowledgement than non-pain.
8. Pain necessitates asking for assistance, accepting it when it comes, letting go of it when it doesn’t. You don’t need anyone to tell you not to sweat the small stuff when it feels like there’s a dagger in your thigh.
9. There’s more than one way to skin the pain cat. You can’t walk around much so you sit still. Til sitting still makes it worse. Yoga can feel like hell, but it can help. Being cold can make it worse, but ice packs can bring relief. Even though ice packs bring relief, hot water bottles do the same. The logic of pain is sometimes hard to follow.
10. This kind of pain is temporary. Well, all pain is temporary, I guess, but there are plenty people whose pain will not pass or improve in their lifetime. I am infinitely grateful to know that, at absolute worst, this will last a few months. If I’m lucky, the physio will work her magic – or the baby will move – and it will lift. The thought of living with chronic pain has been sobering and stark, and a Grave Reminder of Own Mortality.
11. Pain can turn you into a stoic martyr, or a whimpering sympathy seeker. Neither of those two things are useful. You have to do something in between: let people know you’re in pain so you can ask for help. And suck it up, because you aren’t the only person in the universe. And while misery loves company, company, oddly enough, does not particularly adore misery.