The UPS and DOWNS of chronic pain

I just came from the doctor, and he and I agreed that things are going splendidly following my shoulder replacement twelve days ago. This could mean that I’m one surgery away from being relatively pain free. Why, then, do I feel sadder than I’ve felt in a long time. To try to understand, I wrote “The UPS and DOWNS of chronic pain.”

THE UP: People will give you a lot of sympathy. THE DOWN: Sympathy has the shelf-life of bananas.

THE UP: You find out who your friends are. THE DOWN: You discover that you don’t have many.

THE UP: You will find friends among other people who suffer. THE DOWN: You wonder if you will still be friends if one or both of you stops suffering.

THE UP: You’re excused from making a lot of the difficult decisions about life that normal people make. THE DOWN: You don’t get the rewards that come from those decisions.

THE UP: You get to take a lot of drugs that have the power to make you feel pretty good at times. THE DOWN: If you’re in a lot of pain, you can hardly tell you took them, and in no time at all, you will have to take enough drugs to kill a normal person in order to feel even a little high.

THE UP: You always have something to talk about. THE DOWN: People don’t want to hear it.

THE UP: Pain is a school that teaches you that you’re tougher than you ever imagined. THE DOWN: The tuition is outrageous.

THE UP: You don’t have the energy or the desire to create a social face. THE DOWN: Your newfound honesty will often look like irascibility to everyone else.

THE UP: You accumulate an impressive store of medical knowledge about obscure conditions and treatments. THE DOWN: No one gives a damn.

THE UP: Against all odds, you are buoyed along by hope for a brighter tomorrow. THE DOWN: Like a sandcastle on the beach, your hope has to be rebuilt twice a day.

THE UP: No one can tell by looking at you how much pain you’re in. THE DOWN: Even when you try your best to describe it, no words are adequate.

THE UP: Your family will insist that you’re not a burden. THE DOWN: You know they’re lying.

THE UP: If nothing else stops the pain, there’s always death—if not now, then someday. THE DOWN: A life spent looking forward to death isn’t much of a life.

THE UP: Someday, you really might get past the pain, and then you will enter into a land “in which all things are made new.” THE DOWN: You will discover that this new land comes with a whole set of new problems.

In summary, even if I escape this pain, I know from within my own body how vulnerable I am, and how hard—if not impossible—it is to fix some things. How, then, can I ever live without fear, and how can I ever live without guilt that I don’t suffer when so many others do? My first real peer support was from Michelle at and Twinkle at Michelle will probably always hurt and has been near death a few times, and Twinkle is now in so much pain that she seldom writes anymore. For me to feel good when they cannot is to betray them.

Today, I heard on the news about the street fighting in Syria. Those who are wounded are afraid to go to the hospital because the police can pick them up there and murder them. They are therefore taken to private homes where they lie in agony in a city without water or electricity. Then there are the women in Africa who are shunned because of pregnancy-related incontinence; there are the abandoned pets that whimper in cages at the pound; there are the beasts of the forest that face starvation when they grow old; there are the women who are sold into sexual slavery; and there are the children who are forced to grow up in violent homes and on violent streets. So much suffering! So much suffering!

Please don’t think for a moment that I imagine myself to have risen to some exalted position from which I KNOW pain because ALL I can ever say is that I know what I have experienced, and whether by some imaginary measuring stick, it has been a little or a lot, it has been sufficient to change me, and, at this moment anyway, I just wish I could go back to the way my life used to be, because I don’t feel refined, and I don’t feel enlightened; I just feel broken, and I don’t think I will ever feel whole again.