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Choosing Pain

Picture of Karl Palachuk

Karl W. Palachuk
March 22, 2008

Here’s a question you don’t get very often: How do you define pain?

Consider what each of the following mean to you:

– Suffering
– Grief
– Anxiety
– Pain
– Depression
– Anguish
– Affliction
– Fear
– Despair
– Stress

Now think about how you might modify each of these

– Minor
– Annoying
– Sharp
– Dull
– Constant
– Crippling

We all experience pain. Physical pain, mental pain, emotional pain. But experiencing pain and suffering from pain are two very different things.

The words we attach to pain make a difference.

I have rheumatoid arthritis. Some people with the disease refer to themselves as rheumatoid arthritis <i>sufferers</i>. But I’m not a sufferer. I have pain. But when I look down that list of words, I don’t choose “suffering” to describe my pain. To me that would imply focusing on the helplessness of the situation.

In this day and age, I am certainly not helpless against R.A., or any other pain.

From time to time I’ll mention the pain to my doctor (my rheumy) because I think he needs to know where I have pain and how the disease is progressing.

He gives me pills for pain.

Most of the pills eat away at my stomach. Most make me tired all the time. Some make me dizzy. Some make me feel nauseated.

In all cases, after awhile, I stop taking the new pills and go back to mega doses of aspirin. It’s only real side effect is stomach problems, which are avoided by taking food with the pills.

So I’m in a situation where I don’t take pain pills.

I choose pain.

To me, the side effects of the medicine cause a lot more suffering than the pain.

This may sound strange to people who don’t live with daily pain, but I have a philosophy about pain. Most people only rarely experience pain, so they don’t need a philosophy about it. But people who live with pain need to think about it.

And thinking about the pain makes it much easier to live with.

After all, pain isn’t either “on” or “off.” Pain has a place, a shape, a size. It moves. It comes and goes. It has limits and edges. It can be minor, annoying, sharp, dull, throbbing, etc.

All of these things are also true of emotional pain. Putting a name and a place on the pain makes it easier to live with. Recognizing the limits of the pain makes it easier to handle.

Perhaps the greatest benefit to putting some focus on your pain is that, once you’ve given pain it’s due, you can then spend time NOT worrying about the pain. Once you’ve given it some attention, the pain doesn’t have to force itself on your consciousness. And so it diminishes for some time.

Just some things to think about.

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