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What if You Could Wipe the Chronic Pain Slate Clean?

A short, poignant thought experiment for chronic pain sufferers

Paul Ingraham • 2m read
My interest in pain is not academic and abstract. It used to be. For years I said that I was “prone” to aches and pains, and that was true — I’ve always had some kind of vulnerability to musculoskeletal mischief. But I was still an amateur! Unfortunately, over the last couple years, I have come to know real chronic pain (my story). And I think that experience probably shines through in what I’ve written today …

Chronic pain can really fuck your shit up over time. It’s traumatic. What if you could un-fuck yourself? What if you could forget everything you’ve been through, all the emotional baggage, and experience your pain today as if for the first time?

I wonder.

If you could do it, you’d undoubtedly discover that a lot of your suffering is the baggage. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad without all the exhaustion, the dread of movements and triggers, the expecting the worst of certain situations, the depression and the fear, the grief over the losses: the loss of friendships, of strength and play and speed, of sweet sleep, of your old waistline and skinny clothes, of job satisfaction, and everything else that pain steals from us.

How would you describe your pain now, if it was fresh? How would you tell a sympathetic doctor about it as if you’d never told it before? And if she’d never heard it before, or been stumped by trying to help? How would your description be different, if it weren’t stained by despair? If you had never gotten addicted to those damn pills? If you weren’t haunted by how close you came to killing yourself that one night? If you hadn’t spent the last of your savings three years ago?

What is your pain when it is reduced to a numb list, just the sensory “facts”?

Photograph of a small boy child toddling along adorably on grass with a lot of brown fall leaves scattered around.

Easier said than done, of course.

This photo is actually of me, taken by my father one kajillion years ago. The captioning is taken from a meme I found, source unknown, which inspired the post.

The lessons you’ve learned cannot be separated from the misery, of course. But, if you could somehow be wiser without remembering how you earned it, what mistakes would you avoid? How would you respond to these terrible sensations this time? If you had to start over? What would you not bother with this time? What would you scramble to practice or learn as quick as possible?

How would you cope with it, if you had to start over, knowing what you’ve learned? What mistakes would you avoid? What hobbies would you take up, what obligations would you quit much sooner? What would you tell your husband if you could warn him what’s coming?

What if? I wonder.

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