A Post About Pain

a motley assortment

Pain, especially long-term pain, can make people misanthropic, angry, and bitter. Even normally very nice people. I’ve been thinking about this over the last few months.

I went back to work on Monday after feeling much better for a few days. Remember that I’d been convalescing for over a month. Then, hours later: pain. Really bad pain.

By the time I went to the clinic for the billionth time yesterday, I had a new diagnosis: back strain. It seems that my back muscles had atrophied when I was recovering, and I pulled a muscle or otherwise injured my back while attempting to get back to everyday life. The back strain was also the culprit behind my pelvic, leg, and abdominal pain, due to the network of nerves originating from the lower back.

The doctor, who wasn’t my ordinary doctor, told me to take Motrin and sit on hard chairs. This was after I told her that I was experiencing pain from a 7 to 8 on the pain scale. (Which was true.) I asked her how I was supposed to function with this kind of pain. She said that I would be better in two days, but that it would take a month to fully recover.

I was already near tears by then, but I waited until she left the room to sit on the floor and sob. I cried all the way to the elevators. I cried in the lab where I was getting yet another round of tests done. I cried in the Member Services office, where I tried to get my rejected Short Term Disability forms filled out. I was also hating everyone around me. Even the people who were trying to help.

I thought of everyone I know who is angry and bitter, and in pain.

I took two melatonin at 9 PM and fell asleep after reading a bit of Mating (Rush). I woke up with pain. I am very tired.


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Patience or Emotional Suppression? & The Upside of Anger

compassion & care

I went back to the doctor again today. It was a last-minute thing, resulting from a week’s worth of pain that didn’t seem to be improving, and a low mood that was getting worse by the day. The visit itself was fine, even good — my doctor, the surgeon who’d performed the operation, gave me the emotional relief of knowing that I needed another two or three weeks’ worth of rest, and provided me with a doctor’s note for work and a prescription for stronger painkillers.

There was a lot to do before I could call a cab and get back home. I had to get some more tests done, drop off and pick up a prescription for the aforementioned strong painkillers, and go to Member Services to talk to them about Short Term Disability forms. I’ll spare you the la-di-da minutiae of each one and stick to the pharmacy, where it seemed like all 549 people in attendance of this particular clinic were all waiting for their Very Important Medications. (This is after I already went to drop off my prescription, when the pharmacist with the lip ring and knuckle tatts told me that there was no date on the prescription; after I went back up to the fifth floor and waited for my doctor to come and put the date on with her special blue pen; after I came back down and waited and finally got back to dropping off my prescription, which now also said 2/18/11 on it.)

I waited for forty-five minutes. My name didn’t pop up on the screen. Had I missed it when I went to Member Services? I got in the line to talk to the Drop-Off Prescriptions guy, who had a shorter line. Behind me stood a woman; I’ll call her Marge. She had a curtain of hair and a scowl of impatience. I almost wanted to give her my spot in line just so she wouldn’t be so crabby.

“I’ve been waiting for forty-five minutes, and I was just wondering if my prescription was ready,” I said to the bespectacled fellow behind the counter.

He scanned my card. “Yep. It’s ready.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Get in the Pick-Up Line,” he said. Which was a long line, I have to say. I got in the Pick-Up Line. So did Marge.

I was in pain. I’d been in pain for two weeks, the kind of pain that the amount of Vicodin prescribed for “severe pain” wasn’t touching, the kind of pain that I was now being prescribed a heavier painkiller for. I was waiting in a long line. I felt myself growing irritable with everyone whom I perceived as taking too long at the counters. No one escaped my wrath. The elderly Asian couple – they were taking too long with their insipid questions. The woman who kept interrogating the pharmacist about nasal sprays — couldn’t she have looked that up somewhere before she showed up, instead of spending ten minutes asking the pharmacist, who could have been helping the line become shorter instead of longer? I turned and looked at Marge, who was huffing periodically in that way that people do when they’re extremely irritated.

Marge looked at her watch. Huff.

Chill out, I told myself. (I didn’t actually think that. I don’t think I ever tell anyone to “chill out,” not even myself. Maybe “calm down.”) Then I said a prayer. It helped a little bit. I lingered over the last part of the Lord’s Prayer, which is my favorite part — “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” I used to say the ahmitofou (a Buddhist chant) in similar situations. I tried to imagine that the elderly Asian couple who were having a hard time with their English were my grandparents.

The guy who had rejected me from his line and told me to go to the Drop-Off Line started to take people from the Drop-Off Line in his line.

Be patient.



When my grandfather had a stroke and started to lose brain function, he developed a lot of paranoias. He’d scream at my grandmother about how she was trying to poison him. He’d scream at her for small things, big things, medium things. He railed against the world. He railed against my grandmother.

Every time he screamed at her, my mom told me, and my grandmother thought about crying, she would just smile and sing quietly instead.

My mom does the same thing now. It’s not that different from saying the Lord’s Prayer in a pharmacy, in my opinion.


I express anger in two places. (I have only said “I hate you” to someone once in my entire life.)

1.) Dreams. I have dreams where I scream and throw things and let everything that’s raging inside of me outside of me.

2.) To therapists. I don’t yell. I become sullen, snarky, and sarcastic. I tell them what I think of them. I usually feel horrible over the smallest faux pas, but with therapists, I just let them have what I’ve got.

My therapists have always said that expressing anger is healthy. It’s healthy for couples to fight. (Chris and I don’t fight, for the most part. And we have never yelled at one another, which is not to say that we will never yell at one another, but which is to say that it hasn’t happened.) I don’t fight or get angry because it wasn’t modeled for me. Every other kind of extreme emotion arose in my house, but not anger or fighting.

So when I’m being “patient” and “calm” and “compassionate” at the pharmacy, when my grandmother is singing instead of yelling back — is that patience, or is that emotional suppression? Does it just mean that there’s a ticking time bomb in there somewhere?

What’s the upside of anger?

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