Saturday, November 13, 2010

Something To Ponder

I think I mentioned previously that I'm slowly digesting Melanie Thernstrom's book The Pain Chronicles. 

If I were still a college student and into highlighting text, I think the vast majority of the book would be highlighted because so much of it seems noteworthy to me.

Here's a quote that made me stop to ponder tonight:

"Like all chronic disease, chronic pain involves a bifurcation. There is the normal state, where you used to live, and you are conditioned to that state. Then you face a debilitating circumstance that lasts for months or years. When you're in that second state, you hold on to an expectation of that first life: you mourn that first life -- you want it, and want it a million times over. But people have to let themselves die and lose their old expectations. If they let it die, they can rise like a phoenix from the ashes and can have a new life. The doctor has to help them die and be reborn with a vital, rich life." --- Dr. John Keltner, a pain management specialist. (p. 209)

What do you think? Is that really what one has to do to "recover" from chronic pain -- completely give up on one's "first life," on ever getting back to one's previous life, in order to move forward enough to have a life that doesn't center around pain and illness? And how does that work, exactly, anyway? How do you die and get reborn in a non-religious sense?


Brittney said...

Good question. My friend Alex essentially told me the same thing a few weeks ago, that I needed to relax and realize that my current life is my new life and I probably won't go back to the way it used to be. That making the most of what I have now and not holding myself to my old standards is the best thing for me. Deep down I know this, but my mind doesn't want to accept it. The more I fight the more frustrated I get so in a sense it is counter productive. I think that is the reason I am exploring other ways of managing things to see if it gives me another way of looking at things. Getting lost in what should be, instead of accepting reality only creates problems.

Now, how to go about letting the old self go through spontaneous combustion and letting a new life start in its place is a concept I don't know how to put into action. I don't think it is something you can do by going to sleep one night and waking up a newly hatched chick with pin feathers ready to turn into beautiful plumage. I think it might be more of a process of molting and growing in new feathers in a symmetrical way over the course of a month or more. A slow process that will eventually result in the same plumage but you are still physically in your old body. If you look at the white-tailed ptarmigan they go through a full molt that results in changing from one color phase to another every year. Maybe that is what we have to do to start a new life? I think the change will be internal so that only you can notice until at last the molt is complete and other begin to see the differnce.'ve got me thinking. Good post!

Shiri said...

To answer your question: no. (Can I leave it at that?)

I actually really hate this quote. I have to die to live like this? Does that mean I can't be "me" in pain? I have to let go of everything I was to live this way? Not just my dreams, expectations, and ambitions (which, reasonably, must be modified) but also my identity, my beliefs, my sense of self, my laughter, my loves? Through giving up my vital, rich life, I get a new one (at the hands of a doctor)?

No, sorry, I don't buy it. Yes, we have to give up a lot, or at least change a lot. But we don't have to lose ourselves, and I refuse to be told by some doctor that I should. My pain management doc told me, in the first weeks of this, to keep as much of my old life going as I could, that it would help, and I still (almost 7 years later) believe him.

There is no doctor who holds the key to giving us new lives. I know this quote was meant to say there is the possibility of a new, rich life, to possibly inspire, but I refuse to believe that to get there you have to give up everything, you have to let yourself die. This is not Witness Protection, please.

I think I might be a bit angry tonight, but I also think that this is the most agency reducing idea I've heard in a while, packaged as empowerment. I'll still be me, thank you, just a bit different. Not dead and gone, left behind, just changed, a bit distilled.

Barry Fotheringham said...

Great blog - thanks for sharing.

The subject of your post is one that I'm currently pondering (along with many other elements of adjusting to a life of chronic illness). I'm still not sure how to balance acceptance with hope for the future.

I think one element has to be a 'letting go' of previous functioning levels and all that entails. So, family life changes, social life changes, professional life changes etc etc. I've found that accepting I am sick is actually not the same as accepting and embracing the 'new me'.

I'm still figuring all this out slowly and in a haphazard way but I have a strong feeling the key will be in replacing what previously sustained and stimulated me with other activities more in keeping with my level of disability. It's a fascinating subject and one that is central to our appetite for life, I feel. Keep exploring the subject as I'm intrigued by the conclusions you draw :)

I also try to capture my musings on such things here:

Aviva said...

I'm not loving the quote's philosophy, personally. There might be a grain of truth in there, since I believe that just about everything that happens to us changes us in some way.

One of the reasons I put off having a child until the ripe age of 37 is because I wasn't ready before then for the changes parenthood would make in my life. And it's true -- my life is totally different since becoming a parent. My habits and most of my interests/hobbies have all changed. I don't even miss my life before Ellie. (Although I occasionally miss my single, career-girl life. Not often, though.)

So in some ways I agree that my chronic illness split my life into a before and an after. I don't know that i'm done mourning the before-illness life, or that I've given up that I'll ever get back to it. But I don't rail against it as often. I think I'm more ... accepting? tolerant? used to? ... my circumstances and abilities now, going on 3.5 years into this.

I still have my days when I cry about how unfair it all is, usually when I'm particularly flared and my pain levels are through the roof and/or I've developed a new symptom that freaks me out. (I still freak out rather easily, I suspect.)

I think I need to ponder some more. But Brittney, Shiri & Barry: I really appreciate your comments. They've made me think and re-think, and now I'm going to go think some more. Thank you!!