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When I Try to Fight Pain With Pain

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I’m trying to figure out why people would inflict pain to eliminate pain. It makes no logical sense, yet I caught myself doing exactly that last night. That’s actually what got my mind started on this absurd train of thought.

I had a super fun day at the zoo on Thursday with both of my beautiful daughters and my grandsons — who totally have my heart! My Friday was spent baking, cleaning, painting signs, decorating and setting up the yard — complete with bounce house — in preparation for my grandson’s birthday party the following day. I woke up Saturday, extremely grateful for the perfectly gorgeous God-given day. Jack’s celebration was filled with great fun, scrumptious food, and boundless excitement that radiated from happy children and their contagious belly laughs. But then…

As I finally sat down after everything was cleaned up, my symptoms started like a sudden hurricane. As a person who has been riding the rollercoaster of chronic late-stage neurological Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections, I knew it was only a matter of time before another flare took me down. With several good days in a row, a symptom crash was pretty much inevitable. It came on fast and furious. It felt like I had been drinking something far stronger than the water I had been consuming all day. I became instantly dizzy, woozy, shaky and extremely nauseous. I retired to my room and as I lay on my bed the entire room started to spin. The pain — which alternated between dull and achy and stabbing and piercing — overtook my entire skull, face, neck and spine. All of my muscles, bones and joints hurt but the head and face pain was beyond horrific. I found myself rocking back and forth hoping I could bypass the actual vomiting if the Zofran would just work fast enough.

As the face pain intensified… so did my illogical response. It was almost an involuntary reaction. I suddenly found myself digging my fingernails deep into the flesh of my upper forehead and above my right temple.  I would alternate that with pressing as hard as I possibly could into my cheekbone and eyebrow bone and forehead. I’m surprised that the force of my fingertips against my face didn’t cause tiny fractures to occur under the pressure. About an hour into this debilitating migraine-like pain,  I realized what I was doing and thought to myself: Why in the world would I think that digging my fingernails into my face would ease my head pain in the slightest? Where did this response come from? I truly do not understand why I would even consider doing such a thing. But honestly, I didn’t “consider” anything. It happened without thought or reason. It just happened. 

I just really don’t understand why sometimes the human response to pain… is more pain! Why do we, as humans, sometimes think that inflicting more pain upon ourselves would ever make the initial pain go away? What drives this?

While I do not begin to have the answers to things I don’t truly understand, an almost cartoonish, yet insightful vision came to mind with regard to my debilitating physical pain response. I think I was actually trying to “hurt the hurt.” Yep, you read that right. I was trying to “hurt the hurt.”

I think I hate my chronic pain so much that I’m literally trying to fight back on a physical level. When you get punched in the face you don’t normally just stand there and take it. A more automatic response would be to defend yourself and punch back. Maybe I thought if I pushed on my face hard enough the pain would cower and run and be so afraid of me that it would never come back. This cartoon vision looked a little something like this: My pain is a group of “bad guys” we captured and try to keep locked up in a cell. The various forms of pain sit there on lockdown. Sometimes pain is just resting on their cots, while other days some of the inmates start causing trouble. They start obstinately banging on the prison bars — becoming loud and infuriated — until a pain medication removes the instigator and puts it into solitary confinement. 

But then, after a period of relative quiet, the pain prisoners begin to revolt and riot. The boisterous mob attempts to overtake the prison guard and make their escape, promising to bring permanent destruction to all in its path. The standard protocols for pain management are no longer a match for these indomitable offenders and can do very little to get this obstreperous mob back under control. So I, the prison guard, have no other choice but to fight back in order to hopefully reign the pain back into the cell where they belong. I gouge with my fingernails, press with my hands, rock back and forth violently trying to shake them off. In order to subdue the pain I must fight back!

Did fighting back work? Well, obviously it didn’t because I spent the better part of today in bed because the pain levels were still so high. But with the help of medication, sleep and time, eventually the angry pain mob calmed back down a little. Now to get some additional rest for the next time severe pain tries to make a break.

Originally published: September 8, 2016
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