I feel unsure whether I should give voice to this pain — or give pain to this voice. Sometimes that line is very blurry until one steps into it.
I feel made of metal, beat with a mallet into an armor in the shape of my body.
This ghost has been lurking in me since I was six years old.
It was celebrated as a rite of passage for a kid back then. All the kids came gathering around poking my sores with their fingers and smearing them around on their own body’s.
That was the first time I felt objectified as a disease or something other than myself. How strange is that? My mom made me an oatmeal bath. I’m thinking I wish I could take one of those right now.
I’ve experienced multiple types of excruciating nerve pain, but none quite like this. Although this is some of the worst pain I’ve experienced, it’s also fairly interesting. There is almost a broad density to it with pockets of dull stabbing that drop into the depth of my spine like my stomach dropping when the plane makes a sudden altitude change. A harpoon into the side of my torso, making a conical shape of sensation.
Funny how new pain is old pain, and has the keys to all the other old pain.
The spirit of pain is in my house, so I’m choosing to have a relationship with it.
I must have picked it up at some fucking “underworld poop party.”
But that would be a lie because this ghost has been with me since before I knew it’s name.
Although this is an old pain, it feels like a new rite of passage.
Some texts say not to identify with the pain body, but that does not mean pretend it doesn’t exist. For me it means I continue to be curious about my sensations even when I get a shock wave blooming through me like a toothache through my spine.
Something I noticed is that the pain likes contact, firm heavy contact like that I get from sinking into my latex mattress. I also notice it eases some when I give slack to the peripheral nerves of my belly back towards my spine.
I wonder if all this has anything to do with how few hugs I’ve had this year?Or because we are living in a global pandemic? Or maybe because I keep learning about all the ghosts inside of me that I’ve always known were there, but I did not know how to greet because I did not know their names and was afraid of what they would say.
I feel my body and myself feebly trying to numb my own self to my own existence. When I tried to rise from bed this morning I nearly passed out. It was as if all of my most tender and vulnerable parts were entangled in tree roots of a tree that was partially heaved over and slowly moving in the wind. All that is to say I have an exquisite understanding of my spinal cord as it relates to different levels of my spine and how the peripheral nerves relate to my thorax and low back. Sometimes it feels like I have fine little worms crawling inside my skin, other times I will get a whole body shiver that sort of courses through me from top to bottom. There is something almost shimmery about the feeling, so just for a fleeting moment of sensation I feel a microgram of relief.
Once I finally made it up, moving down stairs to the kitchen to make breakfast I was struck by the patterns of tension I could feel through my body that were punctuated by bright beacons that swelled into aliveness lighting up the rest of the thick bruisy landscape. One might call this parasitic tension. It was as if someone had cinched up all the available slack in my neural facial web pulling me into old old patterns. I could feel precise spots just below multiple bony prominences along the ridge of my spine, where the neural fascial layers felt adhered together limiting my movement. My neck was all shifted forward and my occiput tilted back exposing my throat. My shoulders followed suit hunching up and forward off of my stiff and canted spine. With each step I took it felt as if all the shock absorbing intervertebral discs had been deflated leaving me with just a thudding and jaring throughout my body.
It was sunny that morning, while contending with my many agonizing body sensations I was able to make the most perfect soft scrambled egg whipped up with soy sauce and served over some steamed rice. I sat in the sun as it streamed through my living room window and slowly savored the salty sweet quality of the egg and zip of apple cider vinegar over my sushi rice and I was able to smile.
( While writing this I collapsed into bed from fatigue and pain and did not attempt to write again until days later when I began to feel on the mend)
I was surprised and overwhelmed by the care, concern and offers of support that were expressed towards me after I wrote about some of the extreme anony I was experiencing last week. I wasn’t looking for empathy when I wrote and shared it, but I was immensely touched and heartened by the humanity that came through. (I was dealing with my very first outbreak of shingles.)
Growing up I was a sickly kid, and I’ve dealt with mysterious chronic illness and pain since I was in my early 20’s. The arduous path of healing has often felt more like bushwhacking through the wilderness led by my inner compass rather than an open path with clearly marked sign posts.
Along the way I became someone who helps others heal, and learned practices that build and support resilience, integration and harmony. Put simply, I call this embodied nondual awareness.
As someone who respects and values people who practice what they preach, I find that I work towards having that congruence within myself as much humanly possible.
A common experience people have who have dealt with chronic pain (myself included) is that it can often create a sense of collapsing and narrowing, or hyper focusing on the pain. — a hyper vigilance if you will. Our nervous systems become primed to seek out and notice the pain points. So one’s whole person becomes a singular experience of pain with little depth beyond.
Simultaneously there is also a good deal of energy spent trying to resist and push away the pain and discomfort. It’s exhausting. On top of that, there is often fear and dread that presses in with thoughts of what if this is the way I am? What if I never get better? What if this agony lasts forever? Sometimes the pain isn’t just physical, quite often there is emotional pain entangled in the experience. In turn, one can develop coping strategies for seeking safety, primary among them is disintegration and disembodiment, otherwise known dissociation.
As I’ve grown and learned over the past several years, my relationship to myself and my bodily experience has evolved. These insights very much inform how I work with clients as I support and coach them through their own experience of discomfort as they heal.
Relationship is the key word here. Often experiences of extreme sensation and discomfort become compressed down to a binary experience of either I’m in pain or I’m not. That is not helpful, and can actually make it worse at times. We have to allow for nuance, although I recognize that this is difficult when we are suffering. It can be worth acknowledging the presence and source of our pain and discomfort without trying to label it, control it, or push it away. And if possible, welcoming it into our experience with any curiosity we can muster. I like to cultivate a more expansive, omni directional awareness. Asking questions like what else is here? What is the quality and texture of my experience? How am I relating to myself in this moment? Can I have gentleness and compassion for myself and what I’m going through? How are the different parts of myself relating? Is the physical contraction in my body serving me at this moment? Sometimes contraction or bracing serves a meaningful purpose, and it’s important to honor what our bodies are communicating. Where do I feel good as I inhabit my body? Am I able to feel pleasure? Is playfulness available to me? Can I be in this experience without being engulfed by it? Am I able to give myself grace? In this way, we can nurture a relationality and openness to what is.
I find the above sort of practice creates a possibility for spaciousness, nuance and agency in my experience under duress. And it is a practice! My writing has been an exploration in that practice of noticing, and being curious about what else is here, and exploring the textures of sensation.