On chronic pain: love your body, or it will smack you down

Thank you for your donations that are helping see me through what’s been a really difficult time and are helping me buy more time as the result. Although I’ve managed to carve out a fairly decent life for myself in Moscow, medical bills have been an absolute nightmare – even though I have managed them in such a way that I would have never managed them back home in the States. The good thing about life in Moscow is that you are still able to afford decent doctors if you are middle-class and don’t have comprehensive insurance coverage – but even so, the expenses can add up when you’re in my situation, and then add up some more, and more.

In addition to taking care of my eyes and other parts of my body is the amount of physical therapy I have needed, just to manage pain. I’ve been living with chronic back pain and stomach for a while – the direct result of not taking care of myself, not loving myself, really, not allowing myself a break. The pain was bad before, but pregnancy can make it unbearable – entire sections of the physical matter which I occupy can light up in agony so great that it feels as though my nerve endings are being fried. And then I wish that they were being fried. I wish that someone could take a blowtorch to them. The hatred I feel for my own physical weakness in that moment makes the pain that much worse.

When I get treatment – which I can afford right now because of your donations – I’m often told that I shouldn’t be in so much pain. That there is more going on here than a physical problem with my spine or a problem with the lining of my stomach. The tests, the pre-pregnancy x-rays, the medical history – all tell one story, but there’s another story running parallel to that, one that my physical therapist was able to pin down after many other medical professionals just shrugged, because he’s seen it all before.

And the story is of how much I have hated myself and hated  my body, down to the point where me now asking it “hey, could you please carry this child” results in a resounding “I suppose I can – but YOU CAN GO TO HELL.”

Psychosomatic pain is not a phenomenon that’s well-understood, but when you have doctors telling you, for years, “Look, you’ve got some physical problems, but you shouldn’t be screaming in agony right now, Jay-sus,” it becomes something worth looking into. “Do you just have an adverse relationship with your body?” My physical therapist finally asked me. “Do you even know how to relax it? Do you realize that you could be making yourself worse?”

Besides working with the physical manifestations of the problem, we talk about the psychological aspect. “You need to let go of this,” he says as we work on trying to get my collarbone to stop acting like a huge needle that’s been inserted by some sadistic god into my skeleton for the sheer fun o fit. I’ve been learning to exhale it – this feeling of agony and desperation. Spinal problems are problems of flesh and bone, but the if the flesh and bone are constantly being told to go screw themselves, you may never get better.

When we first met, my husband began asking me questions about my relationship with my body. “You do realize, that we have the chance to talk right now and interact, because we’re occupying physical bodies?” He would ask me. “Look what I can do,” he’d say, and run his fingers up and down my arm. “I can do that because you have a body and I have a body.” It was the mere fact of the existence of our bodies that allowed for the creation of The Globe, who always sits very patiently when mummy is getting help for her ailments, and only begins to cautiously tap out his Morse code when mummy gets to the point of shrieking from how much it hurts. No bodies = no Globe. It’s as simple as that, but something buried deep inside me has yet to accept that.

But I’m trying. I really am. And if there’s anything useful I can take from this experience so far and share it with the readers of this post it’s the following – Don’t despise yourself. It’s totally not worth it.

And Tara agrees, love-hate relationships are not healthy:

5 thoughts on “On chronic pain: love your body, or it will smack you down

  1. I don’t like to give advice because people rarely take it seriously, but …. try some meditation. It helps to calm down the stress systems in your brain and body. Less stress, less pain.

  2. Yes. I have a friend who’s always “declaring war” on her body, at odds with her body, talking about how she hates her body.

    Minds/souls/spirits are not masters of/imprisoned by/at the mercy of bodies. We ARE our bodies. We must love our bodies, or we suffer, and sometimes die. Nobody knows whether or not our minds continue after our bodies die, so to hate what we already have in favour of some imagined state is plain old insanity. We need to live in the body-homes we’re born with, and care for them, and others’ bodies like there’s nothing else. It may well be that there IS nothing else. This body. This family. This planet. This lifetime. This mammalian emotion. This bond of family feeling. What’s not to love?

  3. This was a fascinating post. I read it just after a long conversation with a friend about her husband’s recent diagnosis of vertigo, which seems to also be psychosomatic. He pushed and pushed and pushed himself, and finally his body snapped and said screw it, if you won’t just stop, I’ll MAKE you stop because you’ll fall down dizzy if you don’t.

    For what it’s worth, you’ve done an amazing job writing a persona of a person totally confident in her looks and her body. I’m sorry that your relationship to your body has actually been so contentious, and I’m so glad that your physical therapist is helping you figure out how and why and begin to get better. Thinking of you and the Globe and the Husband.

  4. Amen to that! Doctors, for all their education can be incredibly dumb sometimes. If something hurts, it hurts and just because they can’t see something in the mechanics that would cause the pain it doesn’t mean it’s not real.

    When my pain levels are threatening to go off the charts I focus in the area intently. I fill myself up with the pain and visualize a piece of coal getting hotter and hotter until it finally glows white and explodes. That helps a lot.

    Take care of yourself, sweetheart x

  5. Non-topical comment, but I read a few of your articles some years ago. Great to see you are still doing it all this time later. Keep it up, even if I wont read all of them. 🙂

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