Day 215. My Secret Pain Self

You may have noticed that I haven’t been posting quite as much of late.  That has been for two concurrent reasons.  I have been in the middle of writing about how fantastic my phsyical therapist is–because he is really great. Then at the same time, I have been in an existential crisis about how miserable I am because I am in pain and horribly fatigued as a result of physical therapy.

Over the weekend, I was so miserable; I had to miss doing two things I really wanted to do, and I barely un-beached myself from the couch long enough to eat another caramel rice-cake with tofutti cream cheese, honey, and cinammon (my absolute favorite GF, Dairy-free treat…but more than three of those a day will put a girl into two size 22 mu-mus, sewn together, mighty quick).

But I digress, as usual.

I went to PT on Monday and told Mike about my misery.  He was very concerned and jumped right into diagnostic mode.  At the same time, though, he reminded me that I had come in happily last week and announced that my shoulders had never been so relaxed in recent memory and that I thought we were making real progress with this body work.  I do have a vague memory of saying that. Here’s the problem:  When I am in pain, I can only think: pain,pain, pain, pain.  When the pain is over, I can’t remember or describe it clearly (without referring to journals).  Seriously.  He asked me to explain what happened over the weekend that was so bad, and I was hard pressed to elaborate.  It’s embarrassing because it sounds like I am making it up.

I think I have a dissociative response to my pain, to some extent.  On a large scale, people who have a dissociative response are really in trouble, because they are disconnecting from themselves or the world; for example, dissociative identity disorder is the present name for what in the past was known as multiple personality disorder. But a more adaptive form of dissociation frequently occurs to people in something as mundane as, say, a car accident; dissociation from the fright of the situation is gives the person a safe place to stash the self, so people often report having watched the accident occur as though they were watching it on TV. Disconnecting from the whole scene to process the deep and difficult feelings, including pain, may be the safest way for some people–like those of us with very intense feelings–to do it.

Maybe I disconnected one tiny bit of myself that day my parents walked me down the hall of my apartment building and I went to the hospital with an exploded leg aneurysm.  Without any doubt I had the sense of standing above the stretcher where I was lying and watching the radiologist tell me, “Yup!  See!  This is an aneurysm right here.”  And I looked at the angiogram with great interest, as though it belonged to that imaginary patient we always see on television. That dissociated piece of myself has undoubtedly remained….well…split.  And it has a tough time articulating much of anything, particularly pain.  I am sure that is why, on the rotten days like today and yesterday, I tend just to fall asleep.  When that dissociated part of me takes over, I’m not available for talking or thinking much, so the porch light’s off.  Nobody’s home.

There’s going to have to be a whole chapter on physical therapy in my book.  It’s complicated.

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8 thoughts on “Day 215. My Secret Pain Self

  1. Hi Heidi-
    Dissociative response sounds like a great survival technique for what you are experiencing, and a critical chapter for your book. I’m sure it exacerbates the issue of credibility though. Hope some value of the therapy follows the pain.

  2. I’m sorry you had a rough weekend. It sucks to miss out on your favorite things. And I’m struggling with the math (not my forte) of how many delicious treats you in particular would have to eat to get to a size 22 mu-mu. I’m thinking approximately very very very many.

    Until I got to the end, I was concerned that you thought dissociation was a bad thing. I personally think it’s one of the more wonderful tricks our psyches can perform. Mine serves back the dissociated experience in bite-size morsels over time, usually testing me a couple times first to see if I’m ready. And those are just the ones my conscious mind knows about. One of my favorite related stories (that might be all made up but I don’t care) is that rabbits have very little short-term memory, because if they remembered how close they come to death so regularly, they’d just die of fright. I mean, they’re twitchy little things already, aren’t they? This applies to all but the Easter Bunny, of course.

    And as for anyone who thinks you’re lollygagging, I will cut a bitch. And make them be a poet of pain before providing relief. “I hurt so much I went into a self-induced coma of sleep” should be quite sufficient, yes? Looking forward to your PT chapter. I vote for a sentence on how boy physical therapists should wear ill-fitting bras as part of their diagnostic training.

    Finally, you make me want to wear an Easter hat. Because you are the goddess of stylish holiday accoutrements.

    love love love…

    • With comments like this,Randi, how can I do anything but feel fantastic! I love what you said about dissociative response. I’m really starting to think it is adaptive–that and the caramel rice cakes. The good news is I feel better today–thanks in part to the weather, and mostly to nice messages like yours!

  3. well, if nothing else there’s something to be said to the fact that if the pain gets to be too much, you/your body decides to take a nap. “Look, this is painful, and the opposite of fun; therefore, let’s sleep it.” Eminently sensible. If my conscious moments were 1/100th as smart as your dissociative ones, my IQ would be in the upper 100s.

  4. Hah! Well, you can only keep trying. Until then you can just keep doing the lower-iq work of sorting shapes, finger painting, and reading all the great books in four languages that I know of with complete understanding & recall. It sucks to be you. :).

    See you tonight, love!!!

  5. Sorry to hear about your chronic struggles with pain that many times are out-of-control. It sure makes life miserable, and you do an amazing job at forgetting about the pain. I too find myself writing down the symptoms because I can’t tell you what they were later. Who wants to relive it anyway? Hey, whatever it takes to get through the difficult times is what you need to do! Take care of yourself. It was good to see you back and having a great physical therapist.

  6. Thanks so much! As I read your post, I thought maybe there should be a little palm-sized pain notebook where I write down where, when, how much pain, and exactly what kind it was — those all-important descriptors. My pain therapist told me those are critical in diagnosing the problem. I used to dismiss those as kind of a dumb exercise the doc was giving me to blow off steam–and I take most of this stuff fairly seriously. Anyway, thanks for your comment, and thanks for inspiring me!!

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