The Parallel World of Pain

My understanding is that for many people, pain is not normal. It’s a sign to stop, to rest, to not start things. Exhaustion is another thing that many people take as a sign to quit. I’ve had conversations where people have told me things like how terrible it would be if you hurt yourself doing exercise, and that I shouldn’t do something until I’m entirely well…

For most of my life, if I waited to be pain free, not exhausted and feeling well, I’d never get to do anything. The only way to exercise is to deal with a body that hurts before I’ve even started. If I want to do anything much, I have to push. Sometimes it feels a bit like living in a parallel universe. People I encounter have such a different experience of life, such different assumptions about what’s ok and what isn’t. I know it’s not just me.

It’s easy to imagine if you see someone doing something, that they’re fine. No one can see what it costs, at the time, or afterwards. Sometimes I choose to pay that cost, because otherwise I don’t get to dance or do longer walks.

There’s an ongoing emotional cost to pushing a body that hurts into doing things. People who live in the parallel world of pain can have very different emotional experiences from those who don’t. It may be that you get by through learning to tune out your body. It’s awkward for someone with a nature based faith where embodiment matters. It’s emotionally exhausting, and leaves you feeling like you’re less than the people who can afford to be present all the time. Sometimes, you end up so out of it that you can’t really think because there’s so much to tune out.

Living in the parallel world, it is hard to make choices about what is and is not a good idea. The regular road map for the territory assumes you are well. How much sleep, exercise, food, rest etc you officially need isn’t much use, but there’s really no one to tell you what might be worth considering. What’s the right balance for a body that doesn’t start from the assumed position of a morning?

We only have our own experiences to guide us. This means that for a person in the normal world, where pain is occasional and the rules for dealing with it are clear, people in the parallel world are confusing. I don’t think it’s possible to imagine what long term pain does at a mental/emotional level if you haven’t endured it. I also don’t think it’s easy to understand the rest of the life impact either, not without making some effort. It helps when people can recognise that there are other people whose experiences are totally different from their own.

We’re not making a fuss.  We tend to make far less fuss over pain experienced than people who are generally pain-free do if hurting. We’re not doing it for attention. Whether you think we have low pain thresholds or not, is irrelevant. We don’t want unsolicited medical advice from people who have no real experience to draw on. We don’t want to be told what to do. We don’t want to be told that we should be more positive, more grateful, or that like attracts like and we’re doing it to ourselves. These are not helpful suggestions, they are toxic acts and as cruel as they are unreasonable. If you don’t understand what’s going on, consider that we live in a parallel universe and the rules are different here.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

7 responses to “The Parallel World of Pain

  • Jade Hall

    I can particularly relate to this post. I suffer chronic pain and debilitating fatigue. The reason is not firmly established but certain, multiple, auto immune issues have come to light recently. The barage of advice from people who are not in any way medical experts, take x supplement or try x diet, think this or that way, is well meant but often based on isolated cases of high profile individuals who may have, against traditional medical view found answer as to why their particular bodies are attacking themselves and relief through a regime that is meaningful for them. But such suggestions deny the individual aspect of why someone might be experiencing such physical or emotional difficulty that the body is thrown so far out of balance as to make a person so ill, and carry a implicit judgment- you eat wrong, you don’t spend enough on supplements, you think wrong etc.

    It is loosely true that illness often has a lifestyle or emotional component but in many cases the damage is medically irreversible or tightly bound up in the individuals own history and difficulties and can’t be solved with a laypersons idea of what is wrong and how to fix it.

    Person A who feels a bit tired sometimes might well have experienced an increase in energy through cutting a random food from their diet/thinking happy thoughts but this is unlikely to translate to person B who is deeply exhausted and in constant pain as the cause and long term impacts are entirely different. I understand how people develop an intense investment in their personal touchstones regarding health, but the insistence and sometimes offense if this investment isn’t shared can be frustrating and painful for someone else who has probably carefully considered every potential solution and struggled with self doubt and self blame around their own illness.

  • The Secret Poetess

    Truly well said Nimue Brown…and Jade hall. Thank you.

  • Tanya Simone Simpson

    Reading this felt like looking in a mirror. Thank you so much for writing and sharing it. It’s good to have a reminder that other people also live in this parallel world ❤

    • Nimue Brown

      I find it easier to make sense of things when looking at other people’s stuff, so I hope that by waving my stuff about, I can make it a bit easier for other people to think about things too.

  • Jen - Liminal Luminous

    YES, I’ve finally come to the realisation that I can do everything right and still feel dreadful, so I just have to do the things which I want to do. Taking on any commitment is a big deal and I have to weight things up all the time, quite frankly this is exhausting in and of itself.

    However if I waited until I felt ‘better’ I would never do anything at all.

    And yes, there is a certain amount of self care that makes life better, but I cannot be cured I have a genetic condition. sometimes I do fall into the trap that I could be better if….. and if I compare myself to a couple of years ago I am so much better that I was

    And yet, I’ve just had a two hour nap because I was utterly exhausted, despite not leaving the house for the last two days. Natasha Lipman writes at length and well about all of this too, how we are expected that if we just follow the right diet plan and do the right exercise and eat the right supplments we will be well again

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