Living with Pain


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Apr 2 2004 - 8:39pm

Much of the pain that we experience can't be eliminated or treated, so we have no choice but to learn to live with it.

Pain is an inevitable part of life. In living with a chronic illness or chronic pain, pain is no stranger to us and we are likely to endure more than the average person may endure. Much of the pain that we experience can't be eliminated or treated, so we have no choice but to learn to live with it. In my struggle to learn how to do this and to still find meaning and purpose in life I have learned many things and developed a new relationship with my pain.

As a mental health professional and a person who lives with chemical sensitivity, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, I deal with a great deal of pain daily. In my own exploration of pain, and in my professional experience, I have found there are several intertwined levels of pain: the physical level, the emotional/psychological and the spiritual level. Severe physical pain is likely to cause emotional distress as one struggles to cope with feelings of loss, grief and anger associated with diminished abilities or changes in lifestyle or identity. In forming a new identity that includes being ill, one may struggle with the spiritual pain of existential aloneness. Questions such as "Why me?" and "What is the purpose of my life now?" may arise.

I endure excruciating pressure, aching and pinching in my muscles, joints, bones, and head and I live with excessive fatigue and weakness. I have chronic headaches, which frequently turn into migraines. I have severe aching and stabbing pains throughout my gastrointestinal system and in my internal organs. I also have a great deal of grief and loss in response to the limits the illness imposes on me.

For example, I have to completely avoid common everyday chemicals such as perfumes, air fresheners, pesticides, scented laundry products, and disinfectants. In avoiding these substances this means that I must also avoid people who may have these odors on their person. A large part of my life is spent alone at home or doing outdoor activities like walking or country rides. Even so, I have to be careful to avoid lawn chemicals or pollutants in the air. It is particularly painful and frustrating to be prevented from participating in life as fully as I would like.

There is no doubt that pain on any level is unpleasant and disrupting. It is only natural that our first response to it is to want to eliminate it as quickly as possible with whatever means are available. But I think there is a problem with how we are taught to view and deal with pain. Our culture teaches that pain is bad, unnecessary and should be quickly eliminated. If we are not successful at eradicating our pain we are viewed as weak or malingering. If we are in pain, then we (or our doctors or medical science in general) have somehow failed. The message in our society is that we should not feel. We are bombarded from advertising, media, medical authorities, etc. That we should never let ourselves feel any pain. The promise of pain relief is everywhere. If we have a headache or stomachache or muscle aches, or if we feel sad, lonely, anxious, depressed or shy we should take a pill that will fix the symptom or feeling. And then we wonder why one of our largest problems in society today is addiction. This attitude actively promotes addiction. We are obsessed in finding and providing quick fixes and quick relief from every little ache, twinge, pain, grief or discomfort.

Cynthia Perkins


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