A few weeks ago I busted some ribs. I was rolling with some largish guys, as one does, and being careful to save my ever-problematic back… so I managed to hurt my front instead. It didn’t feel like much of an injury to start with, so I carried on doing what I needed to do: the usual lifting and carrying at work, and some bits of urgent DIY, cos I’d started a project and my house was in a sorry state. By the third day of this I found myself at the nearest hospital, begging for an x-ray.
(I didn’t get one. I got some seriously nice pills, though, and a leaflet about my injury that I couldn’t quite read, because it was all fuzzy. Did I mention the pills? They were NICE.)
A sucking chest injury not being part of my plans for the summer, I took extra steps to guard my ribs. It wasn’t much of a struggle, really, because anything that engaged my pecs HURT. Pavlov would have been proud of the speed at which I found ways to adapt my work to spare the injury site.
The following week, my ribs felt virtually ok-ish but my lower back was shot. It was definitely a muscular problem, so No Biggy(TM), but the pain was serious enough that it was incapacitating. Not only I couldn’t lift any weight (including my own), but my range of motion was nonexistent. Two days into it I tried to drive the car and before I got to the end of the driveway I was practically in tears.
A friend of mine who has brains explained to me what was going on. I was busy carrying on as normal saving one part of my body, which meant that I was over-using other parts, and with poor form to boot. In order to spare my left pecs I overstrained my right lower back. It all makes sense. The pain you are working around travels, finding the next weak or over-used spot. I’ve done the exact same thing a number of times in the past, but because I didn’t know it was a thing I’d failed to notice it.
Looking back at it, I could trace the past paths of the Travelling Pain. Twisted wrist to tennis elbow to strained shoulder to mid-back muscle injuries to lower back structural damage. Right cruciate to left lower back to right scapula to left neck to left arm to right arm. Hitherto mysterious injuries and ailments became the obvious consequence of not being able to give myself the chance to stop and heal.
I could also anticipate the Pain’s next likely spot. I couldn’t move my legs properly; I was, in fact, walking very much like I imaging a penguin with raging haemorrhoids might, but I still had to walk. As a result, my hips were under a lot of undue stress. I was willing to bet that, unless I got the chance to rest until I was properly healed, I was going to get a hip injury next. That would have been actually novel. I’ve never had a hip injury before. Unless I popped a knee instead, which is always on the menu.
The Travelling Pain clearly saw me looking at it, because it took a novel step: a chunk of it jumped off me, and landed on the Minion.
The Minion is my co-worker/employee/housemate/associate/minder. Because I was injured, she’d been doing all the lifting and carrying at work. Not only she’d been lifting for me, but she’d been lifting solo what we normally would have lifted together. So her lower back went. The damn Pain had spawned.
At that point, I got pissed off. I am a jackass, but I try not to be an asshole. I draw the line at hurting innocent people. So I took a few days off, figuring that the best way to avoid hurting myself or others was to not be there, and cut down on the work we’re booking until we’re both healed enough. Because if we can’t draw the line at some point, it’s not going to get better. It’s just going to be differently and increasingly bad.
Looking back (and looking around, too), very similar dynamics seem to apply to non-physical pains. Someone gets hurt, and life doesn’t stop for them. They try to carry on as normal while protecting their injury site, but they’re walking wounded. Because they’re not operating normally, experiences they could normally have dealt with end up hurting them. That creates another injury site they need to protect, and on and on it goes, with them bouncing from trauma to stress to depression to heartache to codependency to trauma. Unless or until the pain incapacitates them so thoroughly in their daily interactions that those around them who are carrying their load also get hurt, and end up carrying the spawn of the original pain. It can make for some interesting family trees, but it’s not ideal. And until someone can draw the line, it doesn’t get better. It just gets differently and increasingly bad.