About a week ago I had a toothache from Thursday to Tuesday. Not long in the physical pain department, but enough to make an impact on my life. I had a hard time focusing on anything except my pain; sometimes it was pain and sometimes it was a dull ache, but it was always there, always presenting itself. I was constantly probing the area with my tongue to see what was happening, to see if I could discover exactly where the pain emanated from and to assess if it was getting worse or better. I was not able to sleep because when I lay down I could feel the pain more acutely since I had nothing else to think about (at least not as pressing as the pain). When I ate I had to be careful not to bite on the right side, where the pain was located. And when I was at work, I was spending much of my time thinking about how uncomfortable I was and how I wished I was back on my couch curled up in comfortable discomfort. I was preoccupied in the way you are when you need to make an important decision (something akin to deciding whether you should go to Tahiti or Paris for an all-expense paid vacation—I can dream even while I am in pain).
The impact that this pain had on my life, albeit for a short time, made me think about how my physical circumstances must be impacting my mental and emotional self. But in this I am without a gauge to assess the pain or the ache that constantly accompanies me without being sharp enough to feel. Have I become used to living in pain and am not even aware of it? Do I think that this is the way a person is supposed to feel as she goes about her life? Am I so unaware of what it is to live without the constant fear that I will be insulted or put down or mocked that I don’t know the damage that is on-going? Does it seem normal to put my things on one side of the refrigerator and go up to my room when I hear the garage door open so that I won’t have to see him? Has the image of a normal life been erased from my mind so that I can function within the travesty that it has become?
Now that the physical pain is gone, I can barely remember what it felt like. Gone. Gone like the man who was just sitting next to me (in a coffee shop)—in a moment he put on his glasses, picked up his book, threw out his cup and was gone. Gone like the nail that just broke and is no longer a part of me. But when it was here it was so evident, so demanding accommodation. Is that like the mental pain or chaos that I am living within? Is it a huge pall that has been absorbed within, absorbed to such a degree that I don’t even realize that it is not a part of myself, is not me?
Where is me? Or who is me? A friend told me that her mother told her after her divorce that now she is her self, now she recognizes her. Is that what has happened with me? Is there the Laura before the pain, Laura of the pain, and please, please, please Laura after the pain?
Is it good that I cannot identify the pain, or identify how it is discombobulating my mental functions? If this pain was as alive as my toothache how would I live? Can you live constantly thinking about what is wrong and what is upsetting and what is missing and what is hurtful? Is this the pain of life? Has this pain become the backdrop of my life? Have I allowed it to take over or have I forced it into the background?
And what is pain anyway? Is it a hurt that impedes? Or is it a hurt that demands? Is pain what comes before healing?
Or is pain simply evidence of pain—constant, but present to different degrees? Is pain the pall that is over my life, but which I can blow away if I huff and I puff enough? Or do I need to climb these mountains and get above the clouds of pain? Who’s in charge of this pain that is a dulling agent? Is it me? Is it time? Is it circumstances? Is it a change? Or is it enough to know that the pain is there and that I want to live without it? Is that the true painkiller? Albeit one that works much too slowly.