Why Chronic Pain Is Like A New Lover

Representational image.
Representational image.

Every morning, as soon as I swing my feet towards the ground, it kicks in. From the first step I sense the presence. Throughout the day, the lover stays with me. Rarely leaving the spaces of my mind and my body — never.

I met this new lover about four months ago. The meeting was unplanned, unexpected and as things unravelled slowly, completely unwanted. But the lover had arrived, triumphantly, and taken my life over. Now, as I feel the impact receding from my life, I have found the courage to understand and ponder over what I learnt from this lover.

In the dark and lonely days and nights, as I was confined to my bed by my new lover, I learned to listen to my own body.

Pain, extreme continuous physical pain, is my new lover. Qualified as "chronic" when it lasts more than 12 weeks, pain has been my companion and teacher for the last four months. Why do I want to write about it? Because when I look back at my journey with pain, it is no less than a love story — albeit a toxic one.

One morning I got up with excruciating pain in my left leg. After numerous visits to doctors and alternative healing practitioners, I was given to understand that it was a nerve pain. Consequently, it would heal over time — what that time frame was no one was willing to guess or tell me. Nerves apparently are like that!

In the first four weeks that it came over me, it possessed me completely. Much like a newfound lover, I could think of nothing else, I only lived and breathed its existence. The difference being, I constantly wanted to banish it. Taking off from work, I barely managed to hobble to the dining table and the bathroom. Here I was, a regular walker and yoga practitioner, struggling to put my feet on the ground. I had been literally swept off my feet.

The first brush with this new lover taught me a lesson about isolation. Pain is a very isolating experience. People around one understand a fever or a manifest form of illness. But pain — it resides silent and unseen. For those around, it is very difficult to comprehend. Its intensity or its relentlessness.

In the dark and lonely days and nights, as I was confined to my bed by my new lover, I learned to listen to my own body. Did it hurt more in that position or less? Hours were spent understanding the rhythms and responses of my hurting body. Lying awake, trying to find a posture where it hurt less, was the time when I reconnected with myself. All the things I had taken for granted earlier — the sureness of step, the foot tapping to music, the dash up the stairs — all became aspirations. The reality was that I could barely walk. I swung from deep despair to a manageable level of melancholy. Our mind is the ultimate master, this became crystal clear. Dealing with pain is a personal and deeply intimate hell. It instils resilience and the capacity to tackle life and its problems on one's own. Living through pain exemplifies that at the end, we are alone in this world.

When a new lover arrives, other people often drop off the radar. So it happened with me.

Slowly as the lover settled down, allowing me to get back parts of my life, I understood the need for acceptance and patience. Initially, I would ask every health practitioner I met, "How long will it last?" I would agonise over the replies in the night, wondering if there was some hidden message in "it will take some time". Then slowly I began to accept that it was here to stay for "a while". Once that acceptance found a home, in earnest, with resolve I began to make the most of life as it was.

I joined back at work. Took the elevator, minimised walking and tried to accept the constant sensation. I went out for meals to accessible venues. I waited to be well enough to go see a movie, or to travel. Each day I would tell myself — there will come a time when I will be doing all that I used to. Till then I had to wait. Patience, the elusive one, used pain to become my partner!

When a new lover arrives, other people often drop off the radar. So it happened with me. This isolated journey with pain ensured that my other companions got identified clearly. A few friends, from near and far, called me every single day, just to say hello. A dear friend made time to drop by as often as possible just to cheer me up and suggested to me that I needed to dye my hair! My daughter struggling with exams, and my sister overworked at office, took time out to accompany me to clinics. A colleague accompanied me to a physiotherapist he knew, who charted my path towards recovery. These few people made me finally understand the healing power of gratitude. I had read about it, but never applied it in my life with conviction.

Pain, the new lover in my life, is slowly leaving me. There are still a few miles to go before our final farewell. Much like people who come into our lives for a while, it has imparted learning and insight for the remaining journey of life.

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