Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Psychic Pain Scale

Ally Brosh’s pain scale is perhaps one of the best ones I have ever seen; it certainly makes me laugh, which has definitely been proven to help. It occurred to me, however, that while we’re pretty good at talking about physical pain, psychic pain is not something anyone talks much about, at least in the same context.

If I break my foot I wear a cast. I hobble around and people get up to let me sit down, carry my groceries and hold doors open. If I am pale and tell you my stomach hurts, you will either offer me food or not, depending on what might help me feel better.

What would you say, however, if I wore my psychic pain scale number on my face?

I have a pretty simple existence here, and I did that on purpose. The sort of digging I’m doing into my beliefs, ideas and life takes up a lot of energy and a lot of time, and though I can see the micro steps making monumental differences, I know that many people don’t see much more than a 30-something without a car working part time and hanging out watching the World Cup at the local bar.

“What have you possibly got to worry about?” someone asked me the other day.

“I’m surprised. You should be further along than still believing that shit,” someone else said.

“There’s always something you have to go through. You can’t just run away every time something comes up,” someone said when I moved to Panama.

Would they have said the same thing if I were lying in a hospital bed, recovering from a broken back? Would someone who came to visit have said, “Gee Morgan, I thought you’d be walking by now. You should be further along than this.”? Would anyone be giving it a second thought if I had cancer and were sitting in a rehab facility, taking it easy, eating healthy food, working part time or going to physical therapy to strengthen the muscles that had gone weak around the bone that broke?

What have I got to worry about? Well, you just don’t know, do you? Because we are a society that does not talk about its psychic pain, its symptoms are harder to spot and talking about how you’re really feeling isn’t actually ok. If I don’t tell you the exact nature of my pain, it can’t really be that bad, can it? If I can't tell you I shattered a femur; that I'm on mountains of pain killers; if I am not pale, limping; if I am able to eat and enjoy some time out with friends, does that mean I don’t have anything to worry about? You wish. We all wish. We all act like that’s true. We’re all in motherfucking denial that this very real yet invisible thing exists: that it has weight, body and gloms onto the soul.

Like physical pain, psychic pain can come in waves, and it’s easy to forget when the pain ebbs. For a little while, there’s a profound feeling of NOT being in pain, then it quickly fades into normality until the psychic pain ratchets itself up again. That means I – thankfully – have minutes, hours and days where I can focus on the beauty of life around me. Those moments buoy me when the other moments feel dark, when I am confused because the pain I’m feeling cannot be ascribed to a certain part of my body and will not be soothed by ice packs or heating pads, ibuprofen or casts.

What does help is pressure: a good strong hug; the weight of the sun on my back; cold water and gravity pushing against my skin; the edge of the paper against my fingers when I turn the page of a good book; and laughter pressing into my ears, especially when it’s my own.

You can’t ever know, invisible audience. And they don’t have to tell you. But the next time someone says something about how tired they are, how sick they feel for no reason, how they’re going through something tough, maybe just reach out and take their hand. Because the words weren’t created for describing this sort of pain, and the culture wasn’t either, but the pressure of human touch can transcend all that. Maybe, just maybe, it will lessen the pain somewhat, without any need to know its cause.

Love and psychic kisses

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