When Life Gave Me Chronic Pain as a Dance Partner


OK, I think I’ve figured out a way to explain chronic pain and it’s bearing on my daily life. Be patient, this is only the third time I’ve explained in these terms.

You, relatively healthy, wake up at a one. You’re alive, maybe something’s achy or not right, but overall, you’re good. Maybe aging issues, tummy troubles, psychological or emotional pains, some joint being out of whack kick you up to a two or three. Still, overall, good. Doesn’t impact your day, and if it does, it’s over in a week, or a month. Then back to a one or two. Standard.

Now, you leave the house. Traffic sucks, your car dies, get to work late, the boss is pissy. You’re having an overall rough and tumble day. Now you’re at a five or six.

Everything is still manageable. So let’s throw in some real life shit. Dad’s not well. The cat died. Car broke and there’s no spare money to fix it. A family member or friend is sick. Root canals. Bad doctor’s appointment. Moving. Divorcing. Financial instability. Relationship issues. Now we’re up to a 10. You’re visibly stressed, not sleeping well, worried, planning, making lists, eating poorly, lining things up, strategizing, gaining or losing weight, pacing, seeking outside help. Maybe you’re pissy, frustrated, overwhelmed, isolating.

Life, with it’s slings and arrows, shows up to the knife fight with a gun. Shit. But you’re still used to functioning at a two, so you can roll with this for awhile.

Now. Imagine you wake up everyday at a five or six. For over 10 years – and that’s not including the surgical recoveries or concussion. Seriously, consider it. Every day, a five or six.

Energy stores are already depleted, just by being alive. Pain is always there. It is a perpetual energy sucker. Add to that the relentlessness of physical therapy, physical care, caution with movement and activities, planning said activities around pain. (Is it worth it? Is dancing worth a week of waking up at a six or seven?) Now add the emotional thoughts:

“Why don’t people ask me to hang?”

“Can I support myself if this gets worse?”

“Oh God, it’s been a bad two weeks, am I fucked?”

“I wish I could do ___ still!”

“If I clean the house, I’ll have to take it easy tomorrow.”

“Sorry I can’t go do that with you like I used to.”

“God do I hate ‘comfortable’ shoes!”

“I should workout more, but it always causes more pain. How do I deal with the two to three months of acclimating to exercise if I can barely tolerate my current level of pain?”

Now add just enough life to kick it up to an seven or eight. Just a common rough and tumble day kicks it up to an seven or eight. So life, with its insistence on things always happening (impermanence), often kicks it up to a 10 or 15.

Dad isn’t well. A beloved has been fighting cancer for two years. Dear friends are walking hard roads. I had a root canal and a CAT scan this month. I helped a friend move (managed, no lifting).

“Do I try stopping this med or that one? Will it help?”

No, that didn’t help. Back on that one, let’s try dropping this one. Ongoing.

Overdid it hiking, OK that’s it for a few days.

Without space to breathe, to come back to, without community support, and loving friends and family… I don’t know where I’d be today.

It’s a little dance I engage in daily. It doesn’t go away. The pain is constant. I can side step it with meditation, hiking, and good, connected, loving fun sex, but it’s waiting for me when I get back. This isn’t pessimism, this is how it is right now. (Don’t get me started on the insidious positivity cult this country has going.)

So. What that means is that I don’t roll with the punches as well as I did before pain. A small thing to you might be the last straw for me. A bad day is a bad day, but when all days have an underlying suck, a bad day is horrible news. I fight to stay centered. I consciously work to recognize small things as small things, and some days, I don’t succeed. My frustration may hit a bit sooner than yours. My stress is already high. But I’m always, almost always, mostly, trying to be a kind and compassionate human being on a planet full of people that are also struggling. I’m trying.

Does that help?

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