I don't have chronic pain in the clinical sense, but after more than three years of cancer treatment, I've come to realize that I'm almost never entirely comfortable. Something in my body hurts, or itches, or aches, or feels off pretty much all the time.
Most of the time I'm not in real pain, but it's nevertheless pretty tiring. My feet tingle, or my guts churn, or I vomit unpredictably, and so on. Often it's a vague combination of symptoms, such as a slight stomach upset combined with swollen-feeling fingers and a bad taste in my mouth. Something like that woke me at 4 a.m. today, after six hours of sleep, and kept me awake, so I'm up for the day now, it seems. (Oh, and having been awake for three hours without eating, I of course barfed when I finally got out of bed to get myself some food. Sigh. But I'm fine now.)
Once again, I'm 40, but my body acts much older.
This isn't easy on anybody in the house, not me, not my wife Air, not my daughters. Not even the dog, who when I'm feeling poorly doesn't always get as long a walk as she should. But it's surprising what your body can get used to.
It's also given me a perspective on something I've never understood viscerally: addiction. I'm not on painkillers right now, but I have been in the past, and I've felt withdrawal when I stopped. But that was almost entirely physical. It was unpleasant, but I didn't feel a need for the morphine. I don't seem to be prone to addiction, at least not to anything I've tried in my life so far.
Yet when I feel the constant, low-level, nagging discomfort, I can imagine it being not that much worse so that I'd need medicine to go about my day. And then I can take another step, and imagine that the discomfort and pain weren't physical, but emotional, and how I'd want to do almost anything to dull them. And I can see where that could go.
I still don't really understand what that would be like. I have no idea what it would be like to be there. But I can imagine better, like seeing it from closer than I used to.