I’m really not one for crying in public, because I’m, like, hardcore. All and still, when I trashed my back last year I found myself sobbing like a toddler and effectively begging a guy for mercy. And that was someone who was trying to help me, and doing so as gently as possible. The pain didn’t care about my self-image, and it was a lot stronger than me.
The pain called all the shots then and continued to call them for months. For weeks the pain stayed in the driving seat, determining what I couldn’t and couldn’t do. After that came months of physiotherapy, of working alternatively with and around it, occasionally against it, never able to forget it and never sure that it would subside to a point when it wasn’t controlling my life.
If you don’t get any of this and you think it’s all a sign of my weakness – if you don’t believe that there is pain too severe to be ignored – then there’s nothing more I can say to you. I envy you, but I don’t think I can put things into words that will mean anything to you.
All of the above was a physical experience. It sucked, but it was tangible. The incident that started it was something I could easily and openly talk about to with anyone I cared to. Although the symptoms were horrible, they were part of an accepted healing process. There was a clear map going from the incident to my damage to my symptoms, and a designed route towards my recovery. And although recovery was by no means assured – and I’m still not 100%, and may never be – it could be measured objectively.
I know people who are just in as much pain, but whose injuries are not tangible. The incident that damaged them may or may not have been physical, and even if it was the resulting physical damage has long been overcome. What is left behind is still unspeakable, uncontrollable pain, but it’s all in their heads.
…and if you’ve read that as a slight, that’s making my point for me. We all too often consider psychological or emotional pain – pain we can’t map, measure, or maybe even understand – as a lesser kind of pain. We treat it as something people should be able to control or overcome purely through an act of will. We may even treat it as a personal choice, as something people put themselves through because of weakness or whim. And sometimes it may be, but sometimes it isn’t.
Sometimes pain can’t be ignored in the moment because it’s too intense. Sometimes it takes the time it takes to overcome it, to make it something that doesn’t control your life, even if you really work at it. Sometimes is a sign of damage, not of caprice. The damage has got to be repaired before the pain can go away. Just because we can’t see, measure, or understand something, it doesn’t mean it’s not real.