Physical pain is emotional for me. Prolonged hurt feels like being disbelieved and unloved, disabled and undiagnosed in the faith healing cult of my childhood. It was easier for my family to believe that I was “faking” a hip injury for three years as a teenager than to admit that maybe they’d neglected me and I needed real care. A bad hip pain day is almost guaranteed to send me into a depressive funk, remembering how little my body was respected or my pain mattered.
Most of my pain could be treated, but I lack the means or access to treatment. Poverty, lack of car, and being a single mother without reliable childcare all converge to make getting treatment virtually impossible, no matter how simple the treatment itself might be. I end up feeling my low status in our society in my very body, each twinge or stab of pain a reminder that I am not respected or valued by the world around me.
Physical hurt makes me feel unloved and unsafe, powerless and pitiful. Perhaps if my pain had been acknowledged and treated as a child I wouldn’t have these associations, but maybe pain is really so wretched that depression and hopelessness are normal responses for people with more common upbringings.
For me, access to pain medication is never just about treating physical sensation. Pain is so overwhelming and so heart-breaking that so long as I am in pain, it’s hard to want to live. Once the pain subsides, of course I want to live, even through depression, and I regret feeling otherwise before. But pain is a double-edged sword. It is physical and it is emotional. And it cuts me to pieces faster than anything else.
The more distracting a pain is, the more I have to think about it, the more that thinking turns to self-loathing and self-pity. “Nobody loves me. Everybody hates me. I guess I’ll go eat mud.” It’s hard to be rational when your nerves are on fire sending pain signals to your brain and back. It’s also hard not to feel like a given moment of pain will be the new normal, and that pain will never stop. I went so many years in pain, without medication, without even someone to believe me. During that time I was mocked for my apparently low pain tolerance, while actually walking on a dislocated hip daily.
All pain brings me back there, brings me back to being sixteen and hurting, disbelieved by the people who should have had my back the most. I was made to feel like such a terrible burden and such an awful person, for daring to have needs and flaws. For not being impervious to pain. That betrayal still stings bad enough to bring tears to my eyes half a lifetime later. I needed a doctor and I needed my mother to take me to one, but I had to fight three years to get it. It’s really really hard not to interpret that time as a lack of love, and all pain really as the devaluing of my suffering and happiness.
We should care about people in pain. We should help manage, treat, and when possible stop pain so that people don’t go through life feeling unloved and desperate. Pain is often treatable, we just need to actually care enough about the pain of others to expand access and repeal some puritanical laws limiting use. We need to not just use marijuana patients to get bills passed, but make sure those same patients can afford enough marijuana to keep the pain and the sadness pain causes away. No one should go through life in pain and all alone in that pain.