Pain and Guilt

I didn’t do what I set out to do. It left me feeling guilty. The reason was pain. I slept badly because of pain. I woke up in pain. I tried to ignore the pain and wrote some mails which gave me and others some pleasure. Then I tried to rewrite my paper on neurogradualism as I set out to do but the pain got the better of me. So instead I just crawled up in bed and managed an hour of half sleep that was entirely unrefreshing. I only half woke up feeling full on guilt because I caved in. As penance I did my physical exercises. Painful as that is, I know that, whilst it does not keep the pain away, it increases my chances of doing what I set out to do another day.

“Hold your head up.”, people say, not realizing that is what I – literally – spend most of my days doing. Hearing “Chin up!” is what really gets me down. Sometimes it knocks me out. Shouldn’t I just try harder? Am I too easy on myself? Do I really have enough pain for me to escape that many responsibilities? All these fighting metaphors really wear me out, it’s a chronic illness many healthy people do not realize they carry.

Pain is unquantifiable. It is one of those things which simply cannot be objectified. I am a lucky chronic pain patient in that I know the physical cause of my pain. I can point to the nerve that sends the signal. Even then it remains the case that my pain is mine. I can just note that I can’t just go sit in a restaurant for a long meal. Hell, I can’t even do the family dinner without standing up and walking out when everybody is still chatting. I can see in the mirror that I walk the way Quasimodo is supposed to walk. Still, I can try to sit longer or try to walk smoothly or straighten my back. It will bite me in the back but maybe that is because I’m a wimp.

Many people touting their health and success will tell you we are wimps. They will do so in general always ready to make an exception when they meet somebody like me. Then it matters what is actually the case. “Oh!”, they’ll say, “We didn’t mean you, you have a real reason to complain.” Well, that is some sick shit to say. I don’t know where my whining is starting and where my capabilities end. I adapt and try to have some fun. Do something nice for others. Try to write a paper on neurogradualism explaining that there is no such thing as a clean-cut category in matters related to the human condition. Whether I adapt too much or – as the people around me say – I stretch myself too much is a truth that can, simply, not be had.

Understanding pain is understanding a human being in pain is understanding that there is no simple truth to pain. One thing is the feeling of pain. Quite another is the struggle of every day to find the balance between giving it a place and not making that place wide as shit. Gadamer is normally one of my guides. He wrote a book on pain and another on the Enigma of Health (although the literal translation is better: on the concealment of health) and … I don’t know. It is true that one should not just focus on treating pain, that just says that it can be magically-scientifically be taken away, and the reality of pain just ain’t that way. It is true that one also has to adapt so one can do something useful despite feeling in pain (and mainly to avoid getting in too much pain). The bitch is this: how much can one adapt whilst still being considered useful? Worse even: how much can one adapt and still feel oneself to be useful? There are no answers to this. The only thing that can be done is to understand the other, provide ample benefit of the doubt, in a word: be charitable. I’m not, after all, making this up nor do I expect anybody else to make this shit up. It’s no fun to stand out because one is incapable to live up to the standards of healthy people who’re blind and deaf to anything that’s different and tend to call it ‘diseased’.

No, society won’t collapse when we don'( succeed in quantifying people’s pain – or other problems. Far from it: it will be better founded, more stable and over-all more fun to live in. And excuse me now because I have been siting writing and the pain starts killing me – I go lie down and watch something stupid on television. With some luck, and a lot of well meant motivation, I’ll do that rewrite tomorrow and earn my PhD (even if it means I will never ever earn as much money as I used to do).

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