I’ve been living with and writing about chronic pain, chronic illness and disease for over twenty years. I have seen and personally experienced many phases of this life form and it can be a bit startling. Over that period of time I have heard from thousands of individuals and by that very acquaintanceship, well, it’s been and continues to be interesting. It’s been an education as I’ve observed various changes in myself and in the lives of others. As we all know, education can be enlightening, edifying and broadening.
I’ve often found it interesting to see how my own life and the lives of my fellow sufferers have morphed and changed over the years. There are no ideal ways to respond to this miserable way of life. There are a few that are a bit harder on others around you and can make your own life a bit worse. Sometimes these coping skills simply take on the personality of the one who has to carry the burden of the pain as they realize it’s always to be.
Drama queens are the loudest of all who suffer. Fainting couches and smelling salts may be outmoded but the dramatic aspect still appeals to many. I know it may sound silly but for many, chronic pain can send them into a spin from which they can suck attention, sympathy and applause of sorts from others. It’s a fine thing to have many friends and family but to use those people as succor for our own wounds; it’s an abuse of the privilege of love and friendship. How do we know if we ourselves are behaving as drama queens? That’s a difficult question to answer but the answer, perhaps, lies in the oblique aspect of balance. We can ask ourselves if we are good friends to others or do we just take and give naught in return? Sometimes the bumps in life such as chronic pain, illness, loss, etc. can dissolve our sense of balance and give us a short view of life. It can cause us to be so self-centered as we are sucked into this vortex, so deeply, the walls of it keep us from realizing what we are doing. We begin to realize the reality when others begin to flee from us in droves.
We lose contact with ourselves because we convince ourselves others can’t possibly be suffering anything close to the degree of our own suffering. This causes a separation from others and in a sense a separation from reality. Gradually, we are all that matter in this, our little world. Unless you have the energy to go into acting, go onto the stage or get a job making headache commercials, I suggest this is a sad way to live, even though it is colorful.
I’ll still love you if you become a drama queen but please try to tone down the screaming, fainting and moaning so the Richter scale doesn’t pick it up; but I probably won’t be able to attend all your performances because I have problems of my own.
Another form we can morph into is what I call the cowboy. These are often the martyrs of chronic illness. Females and males alike can assume this position as they totally ignore their own health, their bodies and their pain. They can assume that pose until they fall flat on their faces and wonder, “Hey, what happened?”
The cowboy is a tough guy or gal. My husband was a classic cowboy when I married him. He brushed his teeth with Lifebuoy bar soap. He washed his hair with it, showered with it and, well, that’s as far as I’m prepared to go. That’s the way he did it in the U.S. Army and by God, that’s good enough for anybody. Like many male of the species, he has to be falling down on his face to go to the doctor. YET…when cowboy types finally fall, it’s strictly, “Help, I can’t get up.” Head cold and influenza can turn cowboys into wimps in less than 2 hours; however some cowboys still go to work to share their germs with others. Nothing keeps them from their appointed rounds and no, they don’t have to be mailmen to follow that rule. Cowboys can have a foot dangling on the end of their leg and still think an aspirin is a luxury. They do not convert easily.
I feel compelled to tell you that my husband does now use a better quality of bath soap, shampoo and tooth paste although I must refrain from buying any toiletries that are fruit or flower scented in case someone catch a whiff of him at work. One has to remember he works at a jail and one must be careful not to smell too sweet.
Most cowboys model themselves after John Wayne and even develop his swagger, although some make it look more like a hemorrhoid problem than the way the boots fit. Cowboy guys and gals, your bodies will fall apart just as quickly as the rest of ours so you might as well use the medication, spring for the cost of the good soap and get a haircut now and then. You’re not going to live any longer than if you don’t; and for goodness sakes, take a pain pill now and then instead of frowning and groaning so loudly while muttering, “I’m fine, I’m fine. Quit your fussin’.”
Lastly, let’s talk about clowns. The clowns among us are a distinct category because they play the fool but they don’t know they look the part. They operate behind their masks. Most of the clowns of chronic pain take too many pills, often with wine or beer and think it’s okay because they’re in dire straits. Clowns take too much of everything because they believe themselves to be in dire straits. They’re the ones who tell the pharmacists and the doctors they dropped their pain pills down the sink or someone broke in and stole them. The rules of this mortal combat don’t apply to the clowns, based on the way their little red noses blink or perhaps their wigs are on too tightly. They truly believe no one can see behind their masks or make-up. “Honk, Honk.”
Like any good circus clown, as they hide in plain sight, they flop around in their over-sized shoes risking life and limb. They are certain they are well hidden from sight so they can get away with all the tom-foolery with their medications because no one will notice due to their sleight of hand. The clowns of chronic pain aren’t happy being alone. They want you to jump into the bottle with them. After all, they will say, “You only live once,” and if you’re doing it their way, it’s more than enough. Self-delusion is the foundation make-up for the clown. He or she believes no one understands their words are slurring, their gait is off and they are speaking to everyone as if they’ve just crossed the border or were deaf.
Indeed, we assume many forms in this strange life of chronic pain. We don’t judge each other because we understand or have been there and know wisdom is the only door out.
It occurs to me in reading these, my words that we have all the ingredients here to form a circus. That fits. My life often feels like a circus, doesn’t yours?