acute or chronic.
I've been in a fair amount of acute physical pain over the last seven weeks. Thankfully, it has now skulked away, mumbling the brand name of my antibiotic and shaking its fist. I injured my back at the end of November, and it was just healing up and not constantly reminding me of the foolish move I'd made (trying to lift up an elderly friend), when I came down a week ago with an abcessed tooth. Overnight it progressed to facial cellulitis, a painful, serious infection that ebbed its way out of my jaw, chin and cheek thanks to the miracle of modern medicine.
I've had periods of both acute and chronic pain at other times in my life as well, and while I've written about my childhood, my children, surgeries, my business, my love of Ohio and art and crafts and books... I've never written about pain until now.
Outside of the medical community, pain seems to be a "hush-hush" subject. To talk about it, to admit to experiencing it, implies a degree of wimpishness, of self-centered attention-seeking impropriety even. For men, there are even more societal pressures to "put up and shut up" when it comes to pain and all sorts of cliches such as "take it like a man" and "Don't be a sissy." As children, when we said, "It hurts!" our parents may have countered with: "Now, don't make a big deal out of it. It's not that bad." Parents may be so afraid of raising a whiney child that their only course of action is to negate feelings and discourage further discussion.
Fortunately, although I spent a year and a half of my high school education ill and undergoing three surguries, my parents did everything right. Looking back now, as a mother myself, I marvel at how they offered to me the right mix of empathy and confidence in my ability to cope. They took my complaints and concerns seriously, yet never babied or spoiled me, though I'm sure at times it might have been tempting to do so, as I was the only child still at home and was introverted and sensitive by nature.
When bringing up my artistic leanings in conversations with others, my mother often mentioned how, when waiting for surgery at age fifteen, I asked for pen and paper and created a little chess set so I could play the game with my father and pass time while coping with pain and waiting for the operating room to free up so the surgeon could relieve pressure in my swollen neck (from a benign tumor). What Mom doesn't mention is that she and Dad were the sort of parents who encouraged my creativity and gave me the pen and paper and played the game with me as if these were good solutions to a stressful situation.
In the adult world, it seems we don't trust ourselves or others to mention, admit to, or discuss pain and illness for fear of giving into it entirely and letting its presence control our lives and keep us from the good health we all hope to experience. But perhaps that is the wrong approach. Perhaps silence only empowers pain; by trying so hard not to mention it, we end up screaming about it in less psychologically healthy ways. While no one but immediate family wants to listen to in-depth, descriptions of illness or medical procedures, that verbal faux pas is a far cry from stating the truth:
- "I'm in pain, but finding ways to cope."
- "I've been ill, but am on the mend..."
- "I am doing much better thank you; but it was pretty awful."
(Of course, in work environments there are reasons not to share health information, but I am talking about discussions between friends and those in one's social circle.)
All posts on this topic:
Part 1, "An Introduction to the Subject of Pain"
Part 2, "My Personal Pain Story: The Pink Porcupine"
Part 3, "Creativity in the Midst of Pain"
Part 4, "What Others Have Written on Pain and Suffering"
Part 5, "Resources Related to Pain Management"
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Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist. physician, physiologist, or therapist. I have no medical or mental health training whatsoever. Therefore, no advice, medical or psychological, is intended or implied by any of the posts in this series on PAIN.