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I Want To Talk About Pain

I think about pain a lot. Absolutely shocking, I know. Get a tattoo, you spend a lot of time looking at people's tattoos and thinking about them. Buy a van, suddenly that's all you can see on the road. Have a massive traumatic injury that gives you chronic pain for life, and you start noticing all of the pains, and classifying and quantifying the differences between them. So, here are my pretty broad categories of pain:

First up, the most basic: Sharp, instant pain. Stub your toe? Hit your thumb with a hammer? Cut yourself on a kitchen knife? You feel it right then and there, there's no build up, no question at the source. There are different levels of severity, of course. Maybe it's just enough to make you pull your hand away from that thumb tack. Maybe it stops you so completely in your tracks that you forget what you were doing. Sometimes, I see a flash of white, you'd think that's a head trauma thing, and it probably is, but I've had it happen from a few instances of limb pain.

Most people probably think this sharp pain only comes from the advent of injury, I certainly did. The thing is, nerves can be pretty bitchy. Disrupt enough of the network, and occasionally they'll fire off just to show you they can. Since I started my current job, I can think of at least two occasions where I was carrying a cardboard box across the parking lot to the dumpster, and suddenly felt a knife stab in the middle of my foot. So painful that I had to stop what I was doing, and take several deep breaths to remember what I was walking to do.

Another source of sharp pain that I have to deal with is my melodramatic foot. I don't have the nerve connections to let me feel the bottom of my left foot. You'd think "oh, you can't feel anything, that means you should be immune to sharp pain." You'd be wrong. I have, when still on a LOT of pain medication, which can make you want to itch and pick at things, picked at the build up of callus on that foot to the point that it started bleeding. Didn't feel a thing, learned to be more careful. SOMEHOW I can still tell if I'm stepping on something. I recently read that someone had discovered a secondary nerve network, whereby your capillary cells have little nerve endings that stick just above the skin. I think that might be what lets me feel when I step on something. The problem is that these nerves weren't really designed for that kind of feed back. Stepping on a USB cable? Just the cable, not the connectors on the end at all. Suddenly my brain screams "broken glass!!" and my knee buckles.

Okay, pain number two! Psychological pain: I'm hesitant to include this here, but I think it's important to talk about. I'm not referring to the pain of heartbreak, loss, or any of those other, purely emotional, pains. There's a psychological element to chronic pain that seems to greatly amplify other pain. The best, and most common, example I can think of for this is that when I stub my toes on my injured foot, I get that instant sharp pain that I mentioned, but I'm often rattled in a way that's hard to describe. A simple stubbed toe has brought me to tears on more than one occasion. It hurts, but it doesn't hurt that bad, and yet, here I am, sitting on the bathroom floor, holding my foot, trying to control my breathing, tears running down my cheeks.

Pain number three, aches: You can feel it, it's definitely there, but it just sort of gradually showed up. Maybe you know where it came from, should have lifted with your knees, had a good work out, but maybe you don't know where it came from. It's possible that it could be tied to some restricted movement. Don't stretch in that way, it aggravates the ache. It could just be there, ever present. If not for the last type of pain, this would probably be my most vilified pain. It can suck the energy out of you, it's not so bad that you CAN'T do things, but it will make you not WANT to do things. You just want to sit around and feel sorry for yourself, or sink into a book or movie and try to forget your physical body. Often times aches will slowly build to greater and greater levels. I have left my job and just sat in my car for a minute and screamed to try and let out some of that pressure.

Pain number four, invisible pain: You'd think that pain should be pretty straightforward, you either feel it, or you don't. For whatever reason, though, sometimes your body hides pain from you. It should probably be an ache, but maybe your brain has decided you need a break from all that, maybe you've been experiencing it for so long that it just doesn't register anymore. Just like anything else, though, putting blinders on and pretending something isn't there, doesn't make it go away. It just manifests in different ways. You can't get comfortable, no matter how many pillows you use, and how you shift about (my cats hate this one, but oddly they stick around, I think they know I'm in pain even if I don't), certain body parts might feel unusually cold, or hot, I haven't been sleeping well, but I'm also spending a lot of time dozing off. I'm probably pretty irritable, getting irrationally angry at people. The invisible pain is difficult to deal with, because it's really hard to realize that it's there. Even after thinking that's my problem, it's not until I take a heavy dose of pain meds that I realize just how much pain I was experiencing. I haven't this really clear memory from when I'd been out of the hospital just a week or two, and I was sitting in this wonderful, cushy recliner, and shifting back and forth like crazy, and I just started crying. I remember telling my dad, who was right there, that I didn't know what was wrong. "When was the last time you took a pain pill?" It had been about five hours, and the sweet, sweet opioids were leaving my system, but my brain wasn't letting me feel all of that pain, maybe it was a little overwhelmed.

So, there you are, pain according to Bryce. Thanks for indulging me.


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