Greetings and welcome to Dinosaur Bear,
On the heels of an entire post that was literally about a face brush I’ve decided to broach a more serious topic for today: Pain. The alphabet of “kinds” of pain is unfortunately quite long, but for simplicity’s sake let’s narrow that alphabet soup down to “Mental Pain” and “Physical Pain.” There is, of course, an enormous overlap between the two, but these notions of “Mental” vs. “Physical” are easy to conceptualize even if a bit limiting. For today I will be speaking broadly about Pain (capital P is intentional here, you’ll notice me switch being P and p throughout this post depending on context) with these “Mental” and “Physical” constructs as the constructional base of what I’m talking about.
Why Pain though? Isn’t Dinosaur Bear a blog about silly things and/or adventures? Well, yes. Though it also went through its emo law school phase (itself a kind of pain I suppose one could argue). But, since its current iteration was implemented however many years ago now (2014 I think, though the blog itself dates back to 2012), Dinosaur Bear has always been about “Stuff and Things.” It’s right there at the top of the page. So although discussing Pain is well within the purview of the blog, it’s also not something I’ve spoken about at length and sincerely before (or if I have I earnestly don’t remember it). So, today I’m going to change that and delve a bit into a more serious topic.
Admittedly what spurred this subject in my head is the acute pain I am dealing with in my left foot right now – a Pain which I’ve been dealing with in some capacity since May of 2019.
I’ve spoken of my foot before, but today we’re talking about Pain so let’s revisit it – especially in light of the fact that it’s still impacting my life. In May of 2019 I dropped a hard-sided plastic bottle on my foot late one night. If this is laughable to you because you’re imaging something like a normal U.S. soda bottle then I don’t fault you. I still get weird looks from medical professionals when I tell them how it happened. The key words there though are hard-sided. It was also full of water at the time. To make matters even better it fell cap first onto the outside part of my foot. So all that weight and momentum was behind a hard, angled, piece of plastic that went straight into the base of my 5th metatarsal from about 4′ in the air. To better help you visualize, here is the EXACT bottle that sent my foot to the dark world (yes I still use it, I’m too cheap to get rid of it).
Of course the bottle also broke my foot (5th metatarsal) so I can’t really claim much of a victory here against the inanimate plastic object. Breaking a bone is not fun. Do not recommend. I remember going into the office (second bedroom) of my apartment at the time and putting my head face first into the carpet and internally screaming. Hey, if nothing else at least I was considerate for the people around me trying to sleep.
Generally speaking it’s nice to think that a broken bone is going to be properly treated in our modern medical world. Mine was not. Through an abject failure on the part of my (at the time) podiatrist, I walked around on this broken foot for six months, which, you know, caused even more damage to the tissue surrounding the bone. Thankfully I finally got somewhat proper treatment for the foot just prior to the arrival of Big Rona, but by then the damage was done as it had taken around 9 months for me to receive treatment for the bone injury. The pain in my foot, subsequently, never really went away. For those of you out there who has have Pain in your feet, you know it makes moving in any capacity an issue. I grew to live with it, though in January of this year (2022) it got so bad that I couldn’t really walk again and so the cycle of crutches, boots, braces, etc. all began again. Fortunately for me the foot is not broken this time, which was a concern at first, but it’s full of soft tissue damage that probably never really went away because I never received adequate treatment for the soft tissue damage I developed from the acute injury and subsequent SIX MONTHS of walking around on it in 2019 (under a podiatrist’s supervision, again, mind you).
So, as I sit here typing this I’m in a CAM boot. Hopefully that is coming off and getting replaced by a brace soon. I will also hopefully be starting physical therapy before too long, but my insurance thus far has been very slow in responding to anything my current podiatrist requests (and they haven’t actually approved anything without modifications when they do respond). It’s also about 80 degrees and sunny outside, but I can’t go enjoy it in any real capacity because my foot makes it painful to walk more than short distances, even in the boot.
Now, so far we’ve spoken about my foot. But let’s gravitate a bit upward toward my big brain 200 IQ noggin and focus on my legs between my ankles and knees. This area of Pain, which I generally refer to in an abridged fashion as “my legs” (despite only being a part of them) is now approaching 11 years old. I don’t believe I’ve ever gone into any great discussion around this particular area of chronic pain for me. To do so would be an entire blog post in itself. The source and story of that Pain isn’t necessary for understanding the impact it’s had on my life. This Pain manifests as sharp pain, dull pain, numbness, fatigue, or partial paralysis in various degrees at various times. If you’ve ever had shin splints or known someone with them, imagine that except more severe and chronic. It makes standing, walking, or heaven forbid, running, extremely painful for me when it flares up. Sometimes I can barely even flex my feet (as you need to do when walking) because my shin muscles just decide “Nah feck you, we’re done for today.”
I have an extensive, extensive history of trying to figure out what caused my leg pain as there was no acute moment of injury. I’ve had everyone from literal-who Midwest doctors, to Big 10 sports doctors, to NFL doctors, to specialists at one of the world’s leading hospitals all attempt to figure out what was causing the pain. None could. Oh and by the way none of that is exaggerated. I’ve been very fortunate in my exposure to doctors, though few of them have helped much (in fact some were pretty disparaging). I have an idea (worked out with one of my doctors that I actually liked) as to what is causing the pain, but if that idea is accurate then there is no way to permanently fix my pain that currently exists (at least not without dramatic side effects, such as when I was on a pain medicine that took away the pain but which also made me an absolute asshole to be around – and drugs aren’t permanent anyways). I have lived with this Pain for nearly 1/3 of my entire life. It has stripped away my ability to do many things. I do not remember what it is like to not be in pain because this pain never really goes away. Combine this with (now chronic) foot pain and you get some real mobility issues. But my “leg” pain isn’t even the most chronic of my pains.
Here we need to go back to 2006 which, WEW LAD, is 16 years ago. Around then I developed some neurological/muscular pain on the right side of my upper spine. This pain simply became known as “my spot.” Even now with all the other Pain Pokémon I’ve acquired, this particular pain is still just “my spot.” This pain alternates between maybe a 1 on the scale of 1 to 10 and being so bad that I can’t do much of anything besides lie horizontally. Most of the time it’s just a good old fashioned “fiery” numb. The spot doesn’t even have the decency to just go entirely numb, it has to be numb and painful. It’s like “Body! HOW does that make any sense? You want to be numb yet somehow still hurt? WTF BRO.” Of all my chronic pains, this one is the most responsive to stress. My spot is most probably a pinched nerve. It responded reasonably well to chiropractic treatment I briefly got about 15 years ago and it seemed like it might have been responsive to acupuncture the one time I was able to try that. As is, it’s a be-otch for trying to type things on a computer – kind of like this post!
Having covered the most major aspects of my physical pains, a body pain chart for me would look something like this, with red being areas that hurt in some capacity nearly 100% of the time:
So why share all this? I mean this post is already 1500+ words long and it’s not like reading about my Pain does much for my audience of millions and millions of avid subscribers who u̶n̶k̶n̶o̶w̶i̶n̶g̶l̶y̶ willingly pay $29.95 USD per month to read this blog (many of whom deal with their own Pain – though it is not a competition boys and girls). Well, I write all this because it’s my hot blog and I do what I want. But more seriously, I write about Pain here today because I’ve been reflecting on just how much of an impact it’s had on my life – an impact which I’ve been very hesitant to speak much about over the past 16 years, even to those very close to me. Pain is tedious. It’s tedious for the person in pain and it’s tedious for the people who have to deal with that person’s pain (while also dealing with their own Pain). It generates a culture of “let’s just not talk about Pain.” Or, at the very least, it creates a culture of “people who always talk about their pain are whiny little bitches.” It’s a culture I’ve bought a bit too much into. Now, I just hear the sound of those bootstraps being pulled up out there. No, this doesn’t mean that wallowing around in your Pain is fruitful endeavor that should be encouraged. As I literally sit here under the purview of a The Shawshank Redemption movie poster, I am reminded of my agreement with Andy Dufresne when he said “I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.” So no, my argument here isn’t that it’s good to let yourself be wholly defined by your pain, but that it’s completely acceptable to acknowledge that you are influenced by it.
For over a third of my life I’ve been reticent to speak up about just how much my Pain, well, hurts. I’ve seen such a perspective as an admittance of weakness. Standing here today, I see now that being so exclusionary toward myself has left me mostly bitter and unmotivated. Oh and the pain? Yep, still there. For all of the machismo of the motif I was given in ROTC about “Pain is just weakness leaving the body” I find myself worse off for all the time I’ve spent trying to convince myself that I was an impervious construct of determination. Had I been a little more gentle on myself, I think that I’d be in a better place today. This is the secondary effect of chronic Pain. It can, and frequently does, pull the rest of your life down into a shadowy vacuum of despair – which in turn breeds more Pain. At first glance it might be hard to see how something hurting could derail entire life paths. Admittedly this derailment isn’t unpreventable. But it would also be a folly to ignore that yes, one small “hurt” can steamroll itself into the rest of your life (and beyond to lives of others) if not adequately healed. Here I used “heal” in the more philosophical sense (i.e. there might be a need for literal physical healing, but also an ideological healing requirement as well). I allowed myself to be steamrolled in part because I was so focused on not acknowledging the Pain.
The result was all that I inflicted even more Primary (self), Secondary (goals), and Tertiary (others) Pain. The irony of that post-mortem situation is that simply removing the pain itself could no longer “fix” the problem I’d created through my obstinacy. Author Tony Greco wrote the following in this regard:
“I learned that pain isn’t the whole problem and the absence of pain isn’t the whole solution. I know that even if a miracle occurred and suddenly my pain was gone, everything would not be fine. I would still need to deal with the damage caused to myself and others because of my chronic pain.”
That “damage” is what I’ve been grappling with lately as I reflect back on my life up until this point and this blog post is part of that reflection. The “me” of five years ago wouldn’t have dared to write a post about how much I struggle with Pain. If I wasn’t even being open to those closest to me about Pain how in the world was I going to cast aside the image of a nihilistic-but-loveable law student that permeated this blog in order to discuss it? The fact is I didn’t. I spoke of it in passing. I complained about funny things. I never shared that I hurt. But I did and I do. But that’s ok. There is no inhuman flaw in hurting, no flaw or weakness in saying “Today I struggled to do this because of my Pain.” I’m trying to learn that now. It’s a struggle, for sure, but I’m trying. So if you’ve read all of this random internet person’s musings on Pain, I thank you, and I hope that you take time to think about the Pain you have in your own life and about how there’s no shame in acknowledge that it’s there. To acknowledge is not to capitulate.
Because the thing is, at the end of the day, Pain is inevitable – but suffering is optional.
Until next time,