Monday, August 15, 2011

Pain has an Element of Blank

I seem to be having a streak of painful days. I'm really not doing well, and my abortive meds don't seem to be helping much... neither does my stimulator (I've tried changing the program). I had a particularly rough night, and woke up this morning feeling absolutely horrible. I might give my doctor a call, since my meds aren't helping much, and the migraine pain has been going on since Saturday. It's just hard for me to think straight right now... and I really need(ed) today to be a productive day of unpacking some at the apartment. Anyway, below is something that I wrote about a week ago, at a time I didn't have a migraine... unfortunately, it's fitting today.

Pain has an element of blank;
It cannot recollect
When it began, or if there were
A day when it was not.

It has no future but itself,
Its infinite realms contain
Its past, enlightened to perceive
New periods of pain.

- Emily Dickinson

This poem is so powerful, to me. Dickinson seems to be speaking to both the timelessness and the dominance of pain. Pain is so overwhelming that, in the grip of pain, one cannot remember a time without pain... pain is all there is. And, the future seems to hold only continuing and relentless pain, where the sufferer's life and identity has been consumed by pain.

I think it's fitting that the poem personifies the pain; the person feeling the pain (i.e., the sufferer) is never referred to. I think that Dickinson deliberately wrote from the perspective of pain. Intense pain dominates the individual in such a way that it displaces everything else in his/her life.

In the grip of pain, everything else in your mind disappears... you are aware only of the pain. You are left completely in the moment, knowing nothing but pain (not when the pain began, nor if it will ever end). Pain can leave you with feelings of isolation, despair, and loneliness. When you've been in pain for so long, you oftentimes cannot remember a time when you weren't in pain ('an element of blank'), and you cannot see yourself ever feeling anything but pain.


  1. I certainly cannot remember what it is like to be pain free! =(

  2. ((((Jamie))))

    I'm coming up to my six-year pain anniversary. Aside from three very brief respites where I had pain, but much less severe, I've done this gig for six long years. It feels kind of surreal to me.

    You're so right.....I don't really remember my pre-2005 evenings when I wasn't cuddling up to an ice pack.

    I hear what you're saying and I so dear.y wish I could help.....with the pain and the packing.

  3. Love the poem and love your thoughts about it. I have found only one way to redeem the pain that is so powerful it becomes the only reality of the moment: to have been practicing a live-in-the-moment spirituality (or religion, whichever suits). This doesn't mean that I feel more spiritual or holy when in pain - I do not. But it does mean that my daily practice of meditation, quiet reflection and prayer followed by a day of learning to live in the present moment - and that means moving away from past and future plans, worries, etc - is there to help me when I am in pain.

    I don't really know how to describe it. The pain is not lessened, but the suffering around it (what about that party I want to go to? How will I make dinner? etc) recedes and makes the pain-filled day easier to bear.

    It's that Buddhist saying - Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.


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