Normally I would prefer to do anything to distract myself, to remove my mind as far from my body as possible. Normally I would prefer not even to acknowledge these moments to the world, for the sake of maintaining normalcy (“prefer” is even a strong word, at this point; concealment comes so naturally now).
I have a chronic pain disorder. It has been part of me for nearly four years now, and only for the last 15 months has it had a name. By now, what was once a nightmare has become routine, and I think little of it when a worse bout strikes. You would never notice, and in a way, it’s almost as if I myself barely notice anymore, because my coping mechanisms kick in so automatically.
But there are nights like this one when I don’t cope so well. Perhaps it’s because of the time; everything tends to seem far more significant in the wee hours — good things and bad alike, but especially loneliness.
It is a lonely feeling to be the only one in your home who is awake, and sometimes this is nice, in its own way. The contrast, however, between a roommate soundly asleep just across the room as your body is wracked with pain is the greatest isolation I have ever felt, and this may be almost as bad as the pain itself.
And so I distract myself, most nights, to distance myself not only from the pain, but from the loneliness. But tonight, I choose to engage it, to contemplate it. It is a part of me, after all, so why should I not learn to understand it and know it better?
It begins suddenly, as it always does. Sometimes you may get the slightest warning twinge, but it is never long before the pain seizes you fully, abruptly. You breathe while you can, slowly, deeply, knowing that you may only have a precious minute before it hurts too much to breathe in more than the shallowest, quickest intervals.
Claws. That may be the best way to describe how it feels. Doctors ask whether it feels like stabbing, or aching, or burning. It’s none of the above, really. It’s like a dozen claws trying to fight their way out, scratching and gouging their way through your insides, some in rapid, frantic bursts; others more slowly, almost deliberately.
Pain is just the misfiring of electric signals between the nerves and the brain, speaking strictly scientifically. It’s funny, though, how alive this misfiring can feel. Science essentially describes pain as the malfunction of a telephone wire, but this feels less like a malfunctioning telephone wire and more like an angry creature living within you, fighting to escape.
Breathe. You have a moment.
And then an explosion. Your whole body curls into itself, completely involuntarily. Your face contorts so violently you give yourself a headache, your jaw clenches so tightly you know it will ache in the morning. A single tear burns at the corner of your eye, but you do not make a sound. It’s strange, isn’t it? How our bodies react to sensation? Could you relax if you wanted to, if you consciously chose to let yourself go limp? You exhale slowly, very slowly. Arms go slack, tension leaving from the shoulders first and traveling downward. Back next. Legs. Forehead. Hands.
Your jaw remains clenched and you cannot will it otherwise. Oh well, you tried.
In these moments, you paradoxically feel terror and calm. Terror at just how much it hurts, at the possibility that it could get worse, at not knowing how long it will last this time; calm because this has happened before, it will happen again, but it will fade, and when it does you’ll wonder again whether you made the whole thing up. No, you assure yourself, this is real. This may be the most real thing you have ever experienced. Don’t forget that when it dissipates. (You’ll forget it. You always do, always wonder if you’re crazy.)
Somehow your limbs have become rigid again, your back arched. The pain continues to claw at you, raking across your body with growing ferocity.
God feels, in these dark hours, so far away, because this pain is so unlike Him, so completely other. And yet He at once feels closer than ever, because He feels it, too, and has felt pain unfathomably, infinitely greater.
Sometimes you feel as though every part of you has ceased to exist besides the pain. It possesses your body first, then your mind, then your spirit.
And then you remember that God Himself has felt this. That He has felt more than you will ever know.
And you feel very small.
And you feel very loved.
And you breathe. Once, twice…
It all begins again. Only a few minutes have passed — eternal minutes, but minutes nonetheless — and the cycle may repeat for hours, even days, even weeks at its worst.
But it will end. And you will still be here.
And it will begin again.
And one day, by His mercy, it will end for good.
Perhaps all this seems dramatic. Perhaps in the morning, I’ll agree. Perhaps it seems, too, like a cry for attention, but I hope you will forgive me for this, because it is not the case. Really, what I have tried to do is to make something beautiful from amid the depths of my pain. Because that, I think, more than ignoring it or concealing it, makes me its victor.
God’s grace is sufficient.