Is it better to ignore pain or embrace it?
I thought for the longest time that by meeting my pain head-on, I was doing myself a good service. And it’s true; ignoring pain can be emotionally and mentally taxing. If I embraced the pain, I would be able to discover the edges of it. Then I could encase it in a box within my mind, if that makes any sense. I’d be able to get outside of my own head. Surely this was better than ignoring how I felt? Better than pressing onward despite feeling like a train was chug-a-chug-a-chugging along my spinal column?
After the first accident, I thought that I’d felt the worst pain I could ever feel. After the second accident, naturally, I realized that the pain can get worse. The pain can always get worse. And where before I could feel the edges of it, after the second accident I was burning inside, burning outside, just burning. I tried to face it; instead, I was directed by it. If I turned too quickly and felt a hitch in my ribs, I’d immediately settle into my reclining chair; that was the end of the day, no matter what time it was. If I started flagging while out with friends, I wasted no time in calling a cab.
“It’ll take days to recover if I go out with friends,” I’d tell myself as I crawled into bed to float on pain killers. “I know how this works. I know what to do to get ahead of it.”
It took a very long time before I realized that I had found a new method (for me) of pain avoidance. Embracing pain the way I did wasn’t actually “embracing”; it was total and utter acquiescence. The pain controlled every little aspect of my life, to how I stood when brushing my teeth to how many steps I could take before resting. I hadn’t embraced it at all; I’d succumbed to it.
It takes some strange things to shake me out of a dark head space. For instance, as you can probably tell with my new “Word War Won” posts on Thursdays, I like words. I like language, I like tricky definitions, and I like researching how a word can mean one thing here and another thing there. I’ve always been a word nerd. These days, I feel like I’m able to see so many more distinctions since I’ve started — you guessed it — mindfulness training. Now I can see all these tiny parts of words that I didn’t see before. I see how words affect my perception of the world around me and how important it is to categorize myself correctly. Most importantly, it helps me see the edges of my pain. Am I crippled, or am I injured? Am I damaged goods, or am I a whole person? (Tune in Thursday for this discussion!) These distinctions are of paramount importance to a chronic pain patient.
Months ago, my father made me promise to try meditation and mindfulness at least once per day. I did the usual “daughter promises and has absolutely no intention of doing that” thing. But it seemed like everywhere I looked in my own chronic pain research, doctors were saying that meditation was extremely beneficial. This also led me to the use of mantras, which depend so much on the words I choose. “I am going to feel good today.”
I started meditating by using a technique that I accidentally made up. While meditation has long had use for body scans, I turned that into my own silly method. Do you remember those multicolored flashlights from Disney World? I can’t find a picture of it to save my life, but there were a bunch of strands that plugged into the flashlight, and the tips of them would turn red or blue or green. That’s what I imagine happening to my body. If the area I’m scanning is okay for the time being, it glows a nice green or blue. If the area is alight and sparking with pain, the sea of filament lights turn a deep, angry red. Then I focus my attention on that spot, attempting to get those red lights to turn blue. Massage those areas with intention is what yogis and meditators like to say. Turn those f***ing lights blue, is what I say.
And I say it with the utmost love and attention to my body. Turn those f***ing lights blue.