“Life is pain! I wake up every morning in pain! I go to work in pain! You know how many times I just wanted to give up? How many times I’ve thought about ending it?” – Dr. Gregory House, House MD, Series 8 Episode 21
To anyone familiar with the brilliant medical series that is House MD, staring Hugh Laurie, this scene is particularly powerful. To anyone who is not so familiar, I suggest you google the words “House life is pain” and watching one of the videos on Youtube that will appear.
To anyone who has been in Pain, I mean real Pain, this is even more emotionally powerful. It goes to the very centre of our consciousness because we have felt that way ourselves. We have wanted to scream at people who think they understand but never really do. You can have had all the training in the world, have read every book, watched a hundred people go through it… but unless you have been in there yourself…
To clarify first. I’m not writing about the ‘I’ve lost somebody emotional pain’ (which I do not dismiss, but it is not the focus of this particular page). I am not talking about the ‘I’ve stubbed my toe or got some small not quite injury pain’. I’m not discussing the more serious ‘I’ve just broken my arm/torn my ACL pain’.
I am talking about the kind of Pain that rips through you, makes it impossible to do things or even think. The kind that strips you of yourself, your pride, your dignity, that tears through your personality and makes you a harder, more distant person.
And I am talking about the kind of Pain that lasts. It never seems to end. You maybe get periods where you can do things but… it never stays away for long. Maybe you get a week, maybe a few months. Maybe just a few hours. And it can come back with no warning, just hit you and that’s it, you’re down and out, your day/week is over.
My particular recurring Pain is in the form of Cluster Migraines. To those reading who have experienced a Migraine, you know how they can be. To those who haven’t:
Do not think of it as a bad headache. The comparison is akin to describing a leg that has been run over by a tank as “sore”. Instead, imagine a heard of elephants try to kick their way out of your skull. You go to move, but there is the nausea and dizziness. You somehow try to move, to get away, but that only increases the pressure in the skull, its like the elephants are coordinating to push together against the inside of your temple. A deep throbbing pain rips through your forehead. You taste blood, and realise dully that you have bitten your tongue in shock from the agony of it all. You have no balance, and struggle to move. Every muscle seems weak, your limbs impossibly heavy. The inside of your head is just a silent scream of pain. To protect yourself, you force yourself into a fetal position in the darkest space you can find. You need dark because even a candle light is like stadium floodlight two foot from your face. Even the soft red light of your digital alarm clock is like fire in your eyes.
Afterwards, it takes time to sharpen up again. You aren’t all there, seem dazed and disorientated. Your body aches, everywhere. The pain makes you tense up, and this can be for a long period of time. As your body relaxes, the tension leaves the kind of ache you get when you have done some form of extensive obstacle course with no preparation or training. Some of us get short term memory loss from just before the Migraine hit, or may not be sure what day it is. Which just makes it feel worse, the worry of how much you have missed and what you need to do to catch up.
Over the years I have heard people speak a lot about pain management. They talk from experience of other forms of pain, trying to be helpful. Allow me to say just this: Pain management is a wonderful idea, but talking applying most pain management techniques to a migraine is like talking about protecting your hands in a boxing match with oven gloves. I once had a scan on my brain during a migraine, the doctor told me later that my brain registered the similar levels of Pain as a woman giving birth. The only ‘management technique’ you can apply is to curl up in a ball and hope it doesn’t last long. Aside from getting a new level of respect for any woman who says she wants more kids after having a first child, these ‘experiences’ taught me a lot about Pain.
My first Migraines came in early teen years, as is often the way for sufferers. They come with stress, hormones and for some poor diet or allergies. My mother suffered with them from a similar age so we knew what they looked like and ‘treat’ them. At the time my family put it down to stress, coming in my first year at secondary school I was struggling to fit in and I always put a lot of pressure on myself to do well in class. Looking back now… I’m not so sure that was the cause.
Until I reached University, aged 19, my Migraines came very rarely, perhaps 1 or 2 a year and never lasted more than a day. When I started university, studying for a degree in a design and construction field, I found they increased in frequency dramatically. Again, this was put down to stress, in part as they got even worse when my personal life was going particularly badly. This turned out to be the wrong diagnosis.
During this time, I got several scans, tests and everything else the doctors could think of. I got scanned for everything they could think of. A few of the most notable included high blood pressure (damned right it was high, I was doing a degree while fighting off a Migraine, while my two of the people closest to me fought cancer), epilepsy (inconclusive three times), Cancer (thankfully that came back a clear negative), Non-Cancerous tumors (again thankfully negative) and cirrhosis (failing liver often due to alcohol, despite my being 19 and T-Total). Despite no diagnosis, we did eventually (6 months in total) control with beta-blockers.
For a few years this worked well. My Migraines, while they had receded to the old ‘couple a year’ frequency, had remained as fierce and harsh. Later, aged 25, I did some time working in a wood and metal craft workshop. They quickly grew more common again, and more vicious than ever before. It transpired that I have an allergy to something in wood. Or at least that seems the cause. My Migraines always came within hours of being in the workshop. Doing my undergraduate degree, my Migraines had come at a time when the studio my course was based out of was next door to a workshop, literally yards from piles of wood and sawdust. At school, they had come when I started doing work in the workshop.
I suppose the question to ask is why am I writing this now. Well, in truth, I have a few reasons.
One, I was talking the other day to a friend, who I shall call Brian, about Euthanasia. They are deeply religious and follow the old line of “all life is sacred, who are we to decide when someone should die, Gods test” etc etc. I take a different view. Brian has never been in Pain. He has been in pain, but not Pain. I have. And I know that if I was told that the next 50-60 years would be lived like that, I would find the cleanest and easiest way to end it, I wouldn’t put myself through that. I found the ‘cure’, I know how to avoid it and can get on with my life. I am not cruel enough to put someone else through that, especially if there is no hope of stopping the pain. Most of the people who say they think it is immoral to end someones life like that simply don’t know what that kind of Pain is like.
The second reason I am writing this is because I know I am not the only one to live with Pain. Maybe this will help. Answers can be found in obscure places.
But the real reason I am writing this, simply is because I am still coming to terms with the Pain. I cannot remember periods of the last 1o months. I remember nothing from early November until some time in December. I once stood in a corridor and shouted at a colleague that disagreed with me taking part of the day off that “I am in Pain! You can judge me when you know what that is. You can tell me I did the wrong thing when you have tried to work through it and had to listen to idiots about how they have shite to deal with too. I can’t think, I’m on 6 different drugs and I’m still close to screaming in agony”.
Today I woke up Pain Free. I have done so for the last 4 months in a row. That is enough for me to be happy with my life.