The Narrowing Nature of Pain

I have not been meaning to neglect, but the time has slipped by me as I have discovered the cause of my chronic pain and have been focusing on learning how to negotiate with my body to keep my pain at manageable levels. Also, I have had a surprising, transformative experience helping a family member recover from total hip replacement surgery that has led me to the beginning of a new path, and exploring those possibilities has been both exciting and positive.

It was the return of crushing, breathtaking pain beginning yesterday that prompted both a new personal metaphor and this post. Apparently, my mitigation strategies have been more successful than I thought, since these searing spasms feel more new than familiar - even though I do remember what this feels like. I have not missed it; the daily pain which nibbles the edges of my existence is nothing compared to this all-consuming paroxysm.  My inability to breathe comfortably or move freely without feeling stabbed has limited my day's activities to "things that can alleviate this". What's worse, it feels so omnipresent I cannot call to mind with any clarity any of the myriad projects I'm engaged in, much less work on them.

Which led to the crystallization, for me, of the metaphor of "pain as tunnel". It is not a terribly original parallel, certainly, but it is apt. Chronic pain narrows experience in a way that was hard for me to grasp - even as a sufferer - until the return of this more ferocious pain reduced my focus (and in some ways, my self) from many facets of life to the singular drive towards the light at the end of the tunnel - the relief of pain. It is a limiter of life itself, despite all motivational quotes to the contrary.

The ways in which the tunnel walls expand and collapse, yet never completely retreat, is the stickiest part of this metaphor. Some days it is less tunnel and more charming stone bridge, a small thing I pass under before it falls away behind me and I can enjoy the rest of my travels. Other times, it is a lengthy mountain tunnel - the walls are so oppressive, and the light so far away, it can squeeze the vitality out of me.

But it's never not there. There is never a day in which, living with chronic pain, I don't pass through its shadow, even briefly. If the strategies work and the pain recedes soon, hopefully tomorrow will be more bridge than mountain-deep tunnel. But I cannot ignore that my plans for life need to incorporate the existence of these tunnels. I must build in enough padding and flexibility that my days spent crawling towards pinholes of light don't derail everything else when I'm finally in sunlight again. 

Such planning is, by nature, limiting. Careers and ambitions altered, interests have to be changed, even living spaces and activities need tailoring to fit these tunnel walls of pain. There is no real choice to have pain or not - my choices are limited to how I prevent, mitigate, or respond to pain. Even if such responses are not in actuality limiting, it feels restrictive in a way I resent. It can possibly be seen as no more 'limiting' than any other set of necessary choices; the difference I think is the nature of the imposition.

That is not to say that life with chronic pain is all darkness and misery. It is merely the recognition, despite all my desire to the contrary, that living with chronic pain is like driving in the mountains for any length of time: Beware of tunnel.

What about you? Does the metaphor of "pain-as-tunnel" resonate? What would you add or change?





Image credit:

“Tunnel deterioration” by Gene Bisbee is licensed under CC BY 2.0