This is the thought that occurred to me the other night whilst looking for a parking spot at the grocery store. I parked my car and began to gather my things (purse, keys, phone, bags) when I noticed the same car pass by me again and again, searching for a better parking spot? I wondered, but saw that there were several near where I had just pulled in. Then I thought, well, there are certainly days where even one close would be difficult, just getting through the store can be tough when my knee injury is acting up. And then it hit me, maybe what many perceive as laziness in others is really just them mitigating their pain.
Pain. It’s a touchy subject (pun!) but one that should be more openly discussed, I think. Whether it be an injury, chronic condition or simply soreness from activity or sleeping funny, we all live with some level of pain in our lives. How we go about our daily lives with this pain is a very individual experience. What seems like low-grade or typical pain for one person could feel like a gunshot to another. Truly, we don’t know what things feel like for other folks, even when it’s something universal like a bug bite.
I know there have been studies on the subject, but I won’t cite them here. I’m talking more today about lived experience over science. I mean, they can throw a thousand people into an MRI and see what parts of the brain are handling your pain, but to actually live with it is something else entirely. This is something I think wester medicine fails at. Pain management in the short term they can handle, throw some Vicodin or morphine around and most people will be happy for a little while. But what about people with chronic conditions that live with a high level of pain every single day of their lives?
Long term, pain killers can only do so much until they don’t do anything at all, or worse, create other issues. A western doctor won’t ask about your quality of life or if you’ve had to change everything to accommodate your pain. When you are in such a level of pain on a day to day basis that you simply cannot plan things because you won’t know how you’ll be feeling a week or more in advance, heck even a day in advance, this is what I’m talking about.
I am no expert on anything, but I know many people who live with varying levels of pain and often it can take over their entire lives. How do you hold down a job when just getting up in the morning and walking to the bathroom takes every ounce of energy you’ve got and leaves you in tears? How do you explain this to an employer? Yeah, it ain’t easy! And yet, people live this way because they have to, I can guarantee nobody wants to!
Now I’m not saying all western doctors are bad, but if you also have the privilege of living in a fat body, well then it can be a minefield at best. You could be there, fully informed and prepared, but all they will diagnose you with is too much weight. Ugh! *EpicEyeRoll* Because of this many folks live with horrible pain without treatment or support. Or because of limited resources and access to things like health insurance, they can barely get by.
My boyfriend often asks me why America does certain things (he’s from Wales), often I simply reply, “Because they are dumb!” or some other such snarky thing. But for real? When he asks me why America forces sick people to pay for medical care I truly have no other answer. In my eyes, it is beyond dumb. It is shameful and awful! Yet this is the country that I live in. I’m not proud and you’ll never hear me call myself a patriot, but I don’t take my freedoms and rights for granted either. It’s a strange place, but I do love where I live. It’s complicated. Ha-ha!
I cannot speak to what it is like to live with chronic pain, but I can speak to my own lived experiences with pain management. Twice I have greatly benefitted from acupuncture. Once for back pain at a terrible job with an awful chair in an office that was colder than a meat locker (for no reason, ugh!). The second time was for a different knee injury, though I will start that again for my long term one for sure. These eastern doctors never mentioned my weight or weight loss or dieting. They never diagnosed me as fat. They were more concerned with my quality of life, how I cared for myself and things like sleeping and elimination habits. It was refreshing to say the least. I felt that they truly wanted to get to the cause of my pain and treat it rather than throwing some pills and brochures at me. I always felt cared for there.
Now I have access to a school for acupuncture and thus could afford to go even when I was out of work (I think the typical visit was $25). But there are other options, I know some places charge on a sliding scale or have community open clinics. I’m not saying it’s for everyone, but specifically for pain it has helped me a great deal and I would recommend it.
I also suggest massage for some things. Range of motion is a great one to work on with massage! My ex-husband is a massage therapist and while he was in school he would have to practice on me and the range of motion one was the most eye opening. You get to see and feel the results so quickly that you feel like it can’t be true! But it is and it rocks! I know many folks aren’t comfortable getting a massage for a number of reasons, but I think much of that is preconceived notions rather than actual experiences (not all, of course). There are many body positive therapists out there and I would ask them in advance of an appointment how much experience they have with a.) fat bodies and b.) people with chronic pain issues. Their response should give you all you need, but ask more questions if you’re left wanting. My point is that any reputable therapist should be willing to work with anyone and be happy to do so!
I have had a massage at the #2 spa in the country and the lady didn’t touch my fat arms once! They just hung down the sides of the table lonely and cold. The massage itself rocked, but c’mon! My point is that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get the care you need when it comes to these alternatives. It does depend on where you live, I realize, but ask around and you’ll surely find something awesome. I would not suggest going to a beauty salon that also happens to offer massage. I say this only because often it’s not someone fully trained or licensed and they typically won’t have experience working with a variety of bodies.
How people carry their pain differs, too. I was at NoLose last summer when my bff “Q” had noticed my limping. It was then that I realized that I was more relaxed and present in my body and thus more comfortable limping. I hadn’t realized that I was trying to hide my pain and attempted to walk normally even though it cause me more pain, just to appear normal. Ugh! So silly, but it’s something we all do from time to time. We do things or hide things to not make waves or raise questions. I noticed just this today at work, my right foot is in horrible pain (not sure if it’s an epic foot cramp or an actual injury at this point) as I was leading a guest to our drinks fridge that I was walking weird because of the pain, yet wouldn’t give in to a full limp. So stupid!
I guess my point in all of this is to be kind, to yourself and to others. We just don’t know what others are living with or going through and to be kind is almost always the right thing to do. And if you know someone who lives with pain or other chronic conditions, don’t ask them how they are feeling. Ask them what you can do to help! Not “can I help” or “do you need anything” because you will get a “no” 90% of the time. Ask WHAT you can do to make they day a bit easier/brighter. And trust them when they answer. They know what they need more than anyone.
Do you live with chronic pain? What are you struggling with? What do you wish others would understand? What support would you like from the fat community?