There is a rather wonderful poem by Robert Frost that goes like this-
For every parcel I stoop down to seize
I lose some other off my arms and knees,
Extremes too hard to comprehend at once,
Yet nothing I should care to leave behind.
With all I have to hold with hand and mind
And heart, if need be, I will do my best
To keep their building balanced at my breast.
I crouch down to prevent them as they fall;
Then sit down in the middle of them all.
I had to drop the armful in the road
And try to stack them in a better load.
I found it in an equally wonderful anthology “Being Human" last week, and it's been on my mind since because it seems to entirely encapsulates what it feels like to be in pain.
The type of pain and symptoms I experience are a bit like an orchestra; the string section are covering the fibro type pains, which range around all my body. I feel like the cellos are maybe just above my knees, the violins kick in just above my arms, with viola's making persistence high pitched notes around my neck. Exhaustion is probably lower end of the horn section, with sensory oversensitivity on percussion, and headaches provided by the piccolo's shriek. Lastly add to that the emotional impact of my symptoms on my life, (which would probably be the wind section) and the orchestra is complete.
Together they make a symphony, a symptom cacophony, blasting into my consciousness pretty much all of the time. Sometimes it is relatively quiet, sometimes I can hear it but I can tune it out to a certain extent, and sometimes I want to reach for the earplugs or run out the door.
The problem is is that the best way to deal with pain is actually to listen to it. It is to expand your consciousness so that you can hear all of the bits of the orchestra, but• also try and make room for all the other things you are experiencing. To thoughts, and feelings, to what I'm eating, to sitting on the train, to watching the view across the estuary. It isn't that the orchestra gets quieter, it's more like developing your ears so they can hear all the other noises, the cleaner whistling in the corridor, the traffic outside, your heartbeat.
But it means that I often feel overwhelmed, because sometimes it's just too loud and it drowns out everything else, even the things that are good. It is like constantly trying to balance, like in the Robert Frost poem, “extremes too hard to comprehend at once".
This can make it seem like I'm insane. Because life gives you more parcels all the time. People give you parcels will be time. And they put a little one on top, that to them wouldn't have much effect, and that topples everything over. Things that someone without pain could deal with, completely floor me and I get very upset and very quickly sometimes. And people can't understand why I have such a strong reaction, but it's because I'm already at parcel holding capacity.
It makes me become stressed, easily upset and angered, reactive, and tends to lead to a lot of crying. I used to think that there was something wrong with me because I used to react like this, some deficiency that meant I couldn't cope, but and in the end I realised that it wasn't my fault. That doesn't stop it from affecting me or my friendships and relationships with the people around me, I have lost and damaged them sometimes irreconcilably, but I have stopped hating myself for it.
But it also taught me emotional resilience, to try and process feelings quickly, to apologise to the person I've just been crazy at, to check all the packages for damage, and to start the slow process of picking them all up again. Sometimes I can hear above the orchestra to the quiet calm in my heart, and that is a special and wonderful feeling. Sometimes, like parcels, everything balances, and there is peace among the cacophony. Sometimes. But if you see the conductor, shoot him!