There is the fleeting pain of a stubbed toe, a paper cut, a banged funny bone. That sort of pain surges, eclipses one’s focus for a moment, and then subsides. It is noticeable but momentary. Then there’s the pain of run-of-the-mill illness and injury: a headache, a sore throat, a sprained ankle. This is the type of pain that can temporarily alter one’s awareness and plans, making one think, “Once I feel better I’ll be so grateful this is over.” When the pain passes one may indeed feel grateful, yet that gratitude tends to be even more ephemeral than the pain that inspired it.
Chronic Pain is life changing
Chronic pain, however, is something else altogether. Even when it is intermittent, its return is assured. When pain is a familiar component in one’s life it never really becomes in the “past” because it won’t cease edging its way back into the present moment. Experiencing chronic pain fundamentally changes one’s lifestyle and perspective. As those of us living with chronic pain are often surrounded by those in good health, this marked difference in our experience can feel lonely and isolating.
When I am in intense pain, I feel like I am no longer a part of the world inhabited by the healthy. Pain transports me to another place, a solitary land where everything is slower and heavier. Chronic pain is like an alternate universe where everything appears the same as it does in pain-free life, yet subtle and important differences can be noted throughout the landscape.
The world of chronic pain
In the land of pain, noises are louder and lights are brighter. Factors that might be mildly irritating in the pain-free world are far more insistent and disturbing in the land of pain. The air feels thicker and harder to move through, and the weight of objects feels much heavier. Even the weight of moving one’s own body is cumbersome and challenging. Lightweight items such as jackets or bedsheets take on a gravity that bears down on one’s body. The heft of a purse’s strap or a glass of water in one’s hand takes on a density exponential to that in the world free of pain.
Chronic pain also alters the landscape. In the land of pain, hills and stairs are far steeper. Distances between items (the couch and the bed) or places (the parking lot and the far aisle of a grocery store) are stretched, becoming further apart than in the pain-free world. The landscape of pain is uneven and disjointed, with each crack in a sidewalk, each speed bump in a road, each curb and each piece of gravel disturbing any smooth plane and becoming an obstacle to overcome.
In the land of pain, communication is difficult. It’s as if those living in the pain-free world are speaking a different dialect with nuances I can’t understand. Jokes are not as funny and implications not as clear. Stories seem to take much longer for others to tell, as I strain to follow them. Not only is it harder for me to understand others, it’s also harder for them to understand me. Words escape my recollection as I strain to find the expression I want, while the weariness of this place dulls my motivation to say anything at all.
In this place of pain, others feel entirely out of reach. I can see them, hear them, yet I can’t truly be with them. I wait for my passport, the flare subsiding, so that I can gain reentry to the regular world. I long to exit this land of pain, and stay away as long as possible before RA once again revokes my visa.