I was in a bad mood last night as Glenn and I sat down to eat dinner and watch the Red Sox game. My phantom pain was terrible and it really put me on edge. So what did I do?
I snapped at Glenn when he tried to offer a kind word of support. And then I felt guilty.
I grumpily moved Buttercup when she tried to settle on my lap, since I couldn’t stand the sensation of her furry little body on my leg. And then I felt terrible as she glared at me from her perch on Glenn’s outstretched legs. Bad cat mommy!
I vaped some legal (in California) marijuana that was formulated for pain relief. Didn’t help.
I took more prescription medication. Helped very little.
I watched the Red Sox pull ahead of the Angels as I wriggled in discomfort, but I couldn’t bring myself to care.
I snapped at Glenn again just for good measure. More guilt.
Then I did what I almost always end up doing when I’m in a lot of pain; I left my body. I could not stay in it one more minute. So I left and entered a book.
My gratitude for books is boundless. Engrossing novels transport me to other worlds–not just metaphorically but physically. I left my body behind as it suffered and became absorbed in the social and political dynamics of werewolves, walkers (shapeshifters), vampires, fae, and, of course, humans. Oh and a sorcerer, too. The relief was immense.
I’ve hidden from tough things all my life by escaping into make-believe spaces fashioned of words, and I know I am not alone in this strategy. Yet I find that when the tough thing I face is not other people or external problems but is instead internal, something different happens to me when I read.
Reading with deep absorption, I disengage from my pain. It’s still there, but I feel it far less. Some research supports the idea that brains process sensory information in specific ways, and some forms of cognitive training that teach people to pay attention to some sensory signals while ignoring others can be beneficial for pain control.
I can engage written stories in a state that feels much like meditation (or what others describe meditation as feeling like; I have never managed to do it). And research suggests that I am correct; reading fiction may have the same effect on the brain as meditation, a practice which helps many people to cope with chronic pain.
I’m back in my body today, teaching, attending meetings, and meeting a friend for lunch. The pain feels manageable, and I breathe through it.
And I’m thinking I owe my ever-patient spouse a big, warm hug.