The Pain Closet


I consider myself out in the world about my broken bits. I write and post and publish. It helps me feel connected to the heartbeat of the world, and if sometimes it touches another human, then that’s an extra blessing.

I’ve written about depression, my mental health, sex, longing, hopeless and helpless, poetry, death, dogs and despair. I’ve even written about my relationship with money, and thought it was my last taboo. It was hard to write about me and money. There was a suffocating cloud of shame keeping the closet door closed, tight. I crowbarred it open, and light got in. The shame fell away, as it always does.

Why? Why? Why, does deeply knowing the truth of that, not translate into closet doors being flung wide open?

Retorical question.

I have never written about my physical pain. I didn’t even talk about it, directly and clearly (shamelessly?) until relatively recently. I’ve lived with back pain for so long that I can’t remember an embodied experience from before that. I actually don’t know when it started or if there was any, before that. Six or seven years ago, I was diagnosed with herniated discs and offered steroids injected into the spine and surgery. I was so horrified by either possibility that I chose pain management, with a combination of prayer, medication and the support of my precious GP.

Before this. Before any diagnostic dialogue, I just thought it was my fault. I bought into a narrative, seemingly about healing, but in a slippery way, about blame and shame. I was holding something in my body that I should translate and release. I should welcome it, name it, rescue it, love it, give voice to it, give kindness to it, and above all, by these methods and more, I should be able to release and heal it. I made so many journeys to so many mountains, rituals, medicines, practices and practitioners, and at some fundamental level, I kept failing.

Failing, is an interesting concept, of course.

I have been held, helped, supported and loved by many of my endeavours. I value all the nourishment, beyond words or measure. I think, now I am less invested in being fixed, I can allow more nourishment.

As for the pain… it has slowly, but surely got worse year by year. I have been slowly but surely, moving towards some kind of treatment plan. Even the inconceivable suggestions from those years back. Then in November last year, the slowly worsening pain started galloping. It was escalating day by day. It took my breath away and not in a good way.

It stabilised in the Spring. When I say stabilised, I mean at the new, much heightened pitch.

Maybe, I haven’t written about it because the words don’t pour forth? Maybe, as well as the shame, it’s a technical difficulty? And, what’s funny in an awful sort of way, is that the language I find to write about depression, is kind of the same. It is unforgiving and relentless, it hammers and smashes and breaks, and crushes breath and hope out of every inch of me… so, I feel like I’ve written about it already. But I haven’t. This is me trying.

I think it is something like this: I was learning to live with my depression. And, I do mean in a good way. Kindness and welcome. Celebration even. Here … I am… and, what if that can really be okay? I was getting it. Not getting it exactly… allowing it to find me, this sweetness restored… I believe in this simple possibility, so deeply that my heart could just burst from it… and… oh my, how I am struggling to find the softness around living like this. My back and hips constantly roaring. My knees going. My stumbling and wincing and grimacing, and trying to look vaguely normal, and not be a total bore. I mean how many times can I tell you how it rolls, when I seem to have taken up residence here?

So, somewhat the same, but also not the same. I’m crawling towards steroids and surgery, and I am attached to getting fixed. In the meantime, I am trying to practice welcoming what I don’t want to welcome, and being where I don’t want to be.

It is a small and vast terrain: PainWorld. I am surviving. And, I honestly don’t know if writing about it, is helpful, or not. What I do know, though, is that I can’t breathe inside a closet.

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