Pain is a Place

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.

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13 comments on “Pain is a Place

  1. Tamara – thank you for putting into words that place we all go when the pain hits! It is a place I wish we didn’t have to share, but knowing I am not alone brings courage for the journey there and back. Gentle hugs!
    Michelle – RA 13 yrs

  2. Tamara Haag moderator author says:

    Hi Michelle, Thanks so much for your kind words! It always brings me joy to know that expressing my experience has helped someone else know she’s not alone. I really appreciate you sharing that. Wishing you all the best, Tamara

  3. HaileysMom says:

    Been having a lot of pain. It started last winter in my right shoulder when my insurance would not approve my biological meds even though my insurance did not change and I was on it the previous year. It skipped to the left side.

    In March we finally found a ranch house we wanted. We had been living in a 2 story and I couldn’t climb the stairs anymore. We spent the summer moving, painting making our new house ours. My shoulders were x-rayed, injected, and I went to PT. Nothing seemed to work. I was referred to an orthopedic Dr and had an MRI scheduled

    While waiting for the MRI, I decided to paint one last coat on my bedroom.I suffered a back stain and have not been stand or walk for the past 6 weeks.

    The pain from my shoulders had skipped to my back. Why is it that I have to have pain somewhere?

  4. Tamara Haag moderator author says:

    Hey HaileysMom,

    I’m so sorry things are so hard! I’m sure it feels like you just can’t win. That’s infuriating about the insurance denial of the meds you need, and rotten that you were trying to be in a house that would be easier on your body and it inadvertently made it harder.

    I hope that you get some improvement in pain level and mobility as soon as is possible. I can only imagine how frustrated and mired down you must feel right now. Please know that we are here any time you need a compassionate ear and/or just need to vent. The pain and lack of mobility are hard enough to deal with, and on top of that they often bring feelings of isolation and feeling a lack of understanding. I can’t fix your hurting body, but I can tell you that you are not alone, and we hear you and are here for you.

    I wish you all the best. Thank you for reaching out and sharing your feelings about this tough time you’re going through. Please continue to do so any time you feel so inclined.

    Gentle hugs,

  5. JoanneB says:

    Thank you so much for this article. It is so hard for those who live around people with RA to comprehend daily pain and how it affects our coping mechanisms. You look fine, so people think you are fine. Most have no idea what you are dealing with. I’ve showed this article to my husband and son so they have more insight into my RA issues. Thanks as well for helping me realize I am not alone in my feelings and daily reactions.

  6. Tamara Haag moderator author says:

    Hi JoanneB, Thanks so much for your kind words! It means so much to know that something I have written is helpful to another RA Warrior. It is so hard to live with a painful chronic condition, and being in this online community with people like you who share what you’re going through has been very helpful to me. I’m so glad it’s helpful for you as well. Thank you for sharing! Gentle hugs, Tamara

  7. Debb says:

    Thank you for the great article and for actually putting into words what I feel each day. I have been been in pain for 14+ years. Not occasional pain, not intermittent pain, not pain brought on by overdoing it, etc., etc., etc., but 24/7/365 pain. Pain changes your life completely and I don’t think anyone who doesn’t live with chronic pain or care for someone who has chronic pain/chronic illness, can even begin to understand just how much your world changes! It’s so hard to explain to a healthy person what living like this is like….that is if they actually want to know. There’s very few people who want anything more than a superficial explanation! Thanks for putting it into words and making me feel that someone, somewhere out there, actually understands!

  8. Tamara Haag moderator author says:

    Hi Debb, Thank you so much for sharing your perspective. I’m so sorry that you are dealing with unrelenting pain and wish you didn’t have to go through that. Your kind words that my article helped you feel less alone mean the world to me. I hate that we have to go through this, but I am grateful that we don’t have to go through it completely alone. I don’t have any people in my day to day life who have RA, but thanks to this online community I know that the symptoms, struggles, and emotions I experience because of RA are shared with others. Thank YOU for sharing, and for being in this community. Wishing you all the best, Tamara

  9. Nina Winterbottom moderator says:

    Debb, it is wonderful to hear that the article spoke to you, even though the experience itself is so incredibly difficult. You’ve described so well what it’s like to feel separated from others because of illness. We are so glad you’re here and please continue to share with us. Best, Nina

  10. Thanks for the article. Explaining pain to folks who ask what RA is really difficult and this article will help. Usually the response is I know what you mean, or I had that pain once – not even close, but I say uh-huh and change the subject.

  11. Tamara Haag moderator author says:

    Thanks so much for your comment! I’m glad you found the article helpful, and I do hope it will help the people in your life get a better understanding of what chronic pain is like for those of us who must live with it. Wishing you all the best, Tamara

  12. Joann says:

    Thank you for this article. Pain is a very lonely place. I’m anxiously waiting until my next rheumatologist appt so that I can restart my meds after being off them for the past 10 weeks due to surgery. Surgery went well, but the aches and pains from the RA is getting me down.

  13. Tamara Haag moderator author says:

    Thank you for sharing, Joann! I’m glad the surgery went well but I know how hard it is to be off of meds. I hope that the time between now and your meds kicking back in is as bearable as possible, and that the meds bring you relief. Wishing you all the best, Tamara

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