I took a writing workshop once where the teacher made us go around the room and say what we were afraid of writing about. It was an unexpected - and jarring - question. I don't even remember what I answered. I do remember, though, that whatever I said wasn't my real answer. The real answer would have been that I was terrified to write about my weight. But I couldn't even bring myself to say that out loud. Today, the answer would be different. It wouldn't be, as some might guess, my recovery from alcoholism. Hell, anyone who knows me knows I'll shout about that baby from the rooftops. No qualms whatsoever. Not even a residual modicum of shame.
No, today I'd have to say that the thing I'm most afraid of writing about is my life in pain.
Not the emotional kind. Like almost everyone i know, I've had my fair share and I can write about it with my eyes closed. What I'm afraid of writing about is my physical pain, the chronic pain I live with. Only, I keep hearing this little voice telling me that I need to write about it. So I've been thinking that I probably need to figure out how to write about it in a way that won't - as I fear - annoy the hell out of people.
I am currently involved in a long-term relationship with pain. I wouldn't call it a domestic partnership - more like an arranged marriage. I feel like I've got pain's number and yet I'm still thrown when it does exactly what I expect. Somehow, we're making it work. There is no choice. This is a condition without a cure and without a really effective treatment.
Many of you may already know my story but, for those who don't, please indulge me. It all started about 16 years ago, when I was rear-ended twice within a year. (Get your mind out of the gutter. I mean my car was rear-ended twice.) Neither incident, by the way, was my fault. I am only a little surprised that I still feel it necessary to point that out lo these many years later.
I suffered whiplash and some serious damage to my left trapezius muscle, which is this large kite-shaped beauty that spans your upper back, reaching across your shoulder blades and into your neck. (Whiplash, by the way, is not nearly as funny as they make it look on sitcoms.) Unlike most people who suffer these injuries, I did not get better over time. My pain grew. It spread. I was baffling modern science. I'm just that interesting!
Eventually, I was diagnosed by my very ahead-of-the-times doc as having fibromyalgia. This was 1996, and only about three people had even heard of fibromyalgia. Including my doctor and me. Ever since, the pain and attendant set of unpleasant symptoms have been among the most central and overwhelming factors in my life. This doesn't begin to make me even remotely unique - anyone with chronic pain'll sing you the same song.
I'm not trying to be dramatic when I say that I cannot remember - or imagine - what it is like to be pain free. My pain presents mainly in my neck and shoulders and it operates in shades of grey. I can't predict with any certainty when it'll be better or worse. It makes planning one's life a tad difficult. I'm the queen of canceling at the last minute. Some people get it. Others, understandably, don't.
I haven't been able to sleep without an ice pack on the left side of my neck for 15 years. Sometimes the pain migrates into my limbs, making it difficult to lift my arms above my head or climb a flight of stairs. Occasionally, the arches of my feet feel like they're being pried away from the rest of my body. Add to that the cruel exhaustion-with-insomnia, the charm of irritable bowel syndrome,the embarrassment of a compromised memory - and it's all just a bit too effing much.
At times I feel as though I've reached the point where I cannot possibly deal with it any more. (And what exactly does that mean? THERE IS NO CHOICE.) I hear friends share their tales of woe and I think, "I'd trade with you in heartbeat just to know what it was like to be pain-free for an hour." Sometimes the self-pity overwhelms me and other times I err far too far on the other side of that coin - insisting to everyone around me that I'm fine! I'm great! until I've run myself into the ground.
Which sort of touches on why I'm afraid of writing about it. I'm clearly far more addled than I like to admit when it comes to Caring What Other People Think About Me. And I'm afraid that people will think it's boooooooooooooooring to read about someone's pain. But I'm reaching a point in my life when I don't know how to talk about myself, to be honest about who I am, without talking about my pain.
So I'm trying to figure this out. Trying to find a way to write about it that might be something, anything more than just annoying - maybe that could even be a teensy bit helpful to someone else. I don't know how to do it, but I seem to be on a self-punishing tear of trying to write things I don't know to write.
Might as well give this some more thought. I'm sure you'll let me know how I'm doing. If you're still awake.