Living with chronic pain is an invaluable lesson, albeit accepted grudgingly, on how to live my life without flinching all the time.
It has been so long that I have had this pain in my left temple I don’t remember my life without it. Perhaps two decades? Perhaps a tad shorter than that? Having battled with sinusitis since I was a child, my college years were marked with constant headaches and constant painkillers, a necessity to ensure there was no disruption in my studies. A slow weakening of my immune system occurred to which I remained ignorant until the damage was quite considerable. My sinus and headache medication helped me complete my assignments on time and not miss any classes, but to date, my digestive system is in disorder, probably because of the side effects of pain pills that were a part of my teens.
When did that full head pain ended and this new concentrated pain happened, I don’t have the slightest clue.
Over the years, I had MRI and CT scans. Consultations with an ENT specialist, two neurologists, and one pain specialist informed me that the pain in my temple was sinus related, was fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, and an abnormal cluster of nerves. Different diagnoses, different medications, and an identical result: the pain continued and continues.
And what a pain in the head it is! Twenty-four/seven, three-sixty-five days, unresponsive to medicine. There is my brow, my ear, my eye, my cheek, my nose, and there is my pain. An unhappy co-existence. On days that are good, I ignore it as a dull to medium ache. Frequently, it exacerbates, for reasons known and unknown, and from its tiny place of origin, it explodes into blinding agony. It doesn’t ever go to the other parts of my head but in its dark avatar it is so intense, it becomes the main story of my life on that day, on every third day, sometimes every day.
Living with pain wouldn’t have been that great a diurnal dilemma if I were not a writer and a columnist. For a person who writes for the love of writing and to earn money, in no particular order, a chronic pain in the head is as debilitating, as demoralising as arthritis affecting a pianist. I wish there was a solution to my problem. Perhaps there is.
Two years ago, my visit to a leading neurosurgeon in Lahore changed the way I looked at so much in my life. After listening to the symptoms and manifestation of the pain, he encouraged me to talk about my life. He listened with absolute concentration. He asked questions. He paid attention to what I said. In that short visit, his professional experience and excellence helped him diagnose my problem without prescribing any MRI or CT scan. It was nothing physical, nothing brain endangering, nothing operable.
The chronic pain in my left temple was stress. My body’s psychosomatic protestation of my plus-sized emotional deposits. Everything I had believed for years went into a dizzying disarray, and I finally knew what was wrong with me. Good old-fashioned unremarkable stress. Gosh.
The meds the wonderful neurosurgeon gave me didn’t really help, and I didn’t visit him again although I should have. I’m thinking of making another appointment this month. What I was grateful to him for was that finally I had the name for the monster that was haunting me at night, was darkening my mornings, was turning my days on their heads, was weakening my already weak memory, was making reading an ordeal, was turning writing into a tribulation, and was making focusing on anything, physical or mental, a huge deal. I didn’t have a tumour or a deadly disease, I was grateful for that reality. But what I had and still have is an excruciating way to live. But what I know now with all of me is that I will get rid of it someday. Writing about this pain that is pulsating in the left part of my head even as I write these words is one of my mechanisms to look it in the eye and smile.
Stress. We all have it, we all live with it. Unidimensional or a hydra, it affects every living soul. Wellbeing of loved ones, health issues, monetary concerns, past regret, future related worries, existential dilemmas, stress stems from and covers and overwhelms almost every aspect of human existence. When does it cease to become a mental thing, manifesting its presence and later severity in the form of pain is a phenomenon unknown. All my life I was aware of my ability to face all problems, big and small. All my life, I was unaware of the toll that facing-the-problem was taking on me. I always felt alone. In my middle age, still in pain, I now know what to do. Do I really? Time and lessening and someday the complete elimination of my pain will tell.
What I know now is that the stress affecting your mind and your body is a deeply lonely experience if you don’t talk about it. Real, tangible solutions aren’t earthshattering actions, sometimes it all starts with the tiniest of things. One step at a time, one issue at a time, one hour of nothingness, one hour of existing without material disposable things, one day at a time. What matters is that you do it NOW. Start with opening up.
Talking to people you love and who love you is the first step. Not holding back is the honesty that helps. Having people, even one person, who really listen is a big achievement. That one person who truly truly listens. Who gives advice when you ask for it. Who values the importance of silence. Who doesn’t pass judgements. Who doesn’t gaslight. Who doesn’t question your choices or sanity. Who always have your back. That one person in my life is my son Musa.
In his twenty-three years in this world, Musa is my moral compass. Keeping me centred with his infinite understanding and empathy and gentleness and wisdom, he helps me introspect and question myself and search for answers within and outside without panicking, without feeling bad, without losing the essentiality of who I am.
That is my initiation of finding peace within chaos. Of my acceptance of what is and letting go of what is unchangeable. Stress is not a book I will read and put away. Stress as pain will begin its departure once I accept its inevitability and learn to exist in the moment and live in the now. As I write these words with a great deal of pain in my left temple, I feel a sense of relief. I forgot about my pain when I started writing about it.