Healing What Is Broken

Sorry about any typos and other issues in this post — it’s the first one I’m making from my tablet.

Yesterday I started a new pain group — CBT to be specific. Isn’t that funny? Of course the first thing I thought was “Cock and Ball Torture” but in this case it actually means “Cognitive Behavior Therapy” or something, basically adjusting your thinking so that you deal with pain better. I’m not too sure whether it will be helpful to me because all things considered I’m a remarkably positive person and think I have a pretty good attitude about the pain from my condition. That said, the doctors have pretty much run out of treatment options so before I either drop dead or go jump off the Golden Gate Bridge because I’m sick of living like this — and believe me, there are a great many days when that seems like the sensible thing to do — I figure I ought to explore every single long-shot option that might help. So for three incredibly boring and unpleasant hours twice a week I’m stuck in a room hanging out with other chronic pain sufferers obsessing over the worst part of our lives. Personally I’m having some trouble seeing how it’s helpful because every time I have to talk about pain I end up feeling like shit for the next day or two. I’d much rather be out doing something that’s as far removed from obsessing on pain as possible.

There was a fair amount of whining from other patients about how they can’t do anything because the pain is holding them back and it seems insurmountable and they’re always exhausted because they can’t sleep due to the pain, and on and on and on. I told them that I could relate to what they were saying — it really is a very easy hole to fall into, that pit of despair that seems more difficult to get out of the longer you stay there — but that it was bullshit and they weren’t doing themselves any favors. I think I have had periods where I’ve been like that, but when I finally got my diagnosis and realized that, while I didn’t have a traditionally “terminal” disease like nasty cancers, I did have a finite amount of quality life left. Every hour that went by was an hour less of functional life I had left. I guess in a way that’s true for every one of us, but for me it was made much more real when I was told that the time remaining was quite short and there wasn’t a damn think anyone could do about it. So I said to myself that until the day I couldn’t take the pain and other symptoms any more that I was going to squeeze out every bit of life that I had left. With less and less time left, there is more and more that I want to do. I try and value every moment. I know there are things I’m working on that I won’t see to completion, but nonetheless I am going to push at them with passion. While it is true that since making that decision my condition has gotten worse… much worse… at the same time, every step I take makes taking the next step a little easier. Or at least it reminds me that I am able to take the step.

So I tried to explain that to the people expressing hopelessness. Mostly what they got out of it was how horrible it is to have a condition that is undiagnosed — I guess the main thing they heard was that it got better for me after I had a diagnosis. I’d say that 80% of the people in the group, if not more, have either an undiagnosed or “vaguely diagnosed” condition, or a condition that is dianosed but should not normally be painful, which is emotionally the same thing. Now, it is true that getting a diagnosis is wonderful, because when you don’t have a diagnosis, not only are you treated badly by the medical community — they wonder openly if you’re just drug seeking, or if you have a psychiatric condition — but you’re also treated similarly by your friends and family who can’t see the invisible grim reaper that’s pulling you down into the abyss. But worst of all, you start to second guess yourself. But anyway, maybe that moment of “I can do it” is just something you have to do for yourself on your own schedule. Kind of like beating depression. It’s true that in the end the answer is simple “snap out of it!”, but it doesn’t do you any good to have other people say that to you. You have to figure out how to say it to yourself and really mean it.

It is interesting though hearing some people’s stories. Obviously out of respect for their privacy there’s very little I can repeat, but almost a quarter of the group members are TTC streetcar drivers!!! Not only that, but they all have post-traumatic stress disorder, and all the aweful psychiatric disorders that cluster around PTSD, which they tell me is worse for transit workers than police or firefighters. The stories of commonplace assaults were shocking. One of them is actually there because he was doing a rear door loading on a streetcar, and a woman in a car behind the streetcar was angry about having to wait for him. He has minor spinal bifida so he already has back problems and moves slowly, but it was made so much worse because this woman, instead of just screaming or honking, actually rammed him (as in his human body with her car) repeatedly. When he fell down on the ground, she got out of her car and started beating him and trying to drag him out of her way. Crazy. To make matters worse and really push it into PTSD territory, no one on the streetcar or sidewalk stepped up to help. They just sat there and eagerly watched, and when the police finally showed up, not a single person was willing to provide a witness statement. Terrible story if it’s even partially accurate. Everyone in the group has a hard-luck story in one way or another, even the whiners. I guess for some people it is comforting to know that they’re not alone, but for me it just makes me sad.

In more positive healing-of-the-broken news, the little bird we rescued may actually make it through. For the first week he spent most of his time lying on his side with his head usually tucked down. It seemed like he actually could not hold his head up at all, and as if his neck was broken it would just sort of roll around randomly. Very disturbing. We were pretty sure he’d suffered brain damage because his behavior was so messed up. He would also spasticly jump-slash-roll around and it seemed like he was completely out of control of his behavior. However, I am happy to say that he does seem to be getting stronger — and he has been eating and drinking regularly — and today for the first time seems to be able to hold his head up and look around. I am beginning to think we will be able to successfully release him back into the wild, which is good because I was getting concerned that all I had achieved was extending the torment of a severely injured half dead little lifeform…


  1. dresden wrote:

    Ha, my girlfriend is a social worker, and she mentions CBT all the time, and cock and ball torture is always the first thing that runs through my mind.

    Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 5:04 am | Permalink
  2. Stef wrote:

    I’ve used CBT for simmilar and found it very useful. It’s hard to begin with and I agree for the first wee while, talking = worse. But stick with it. It’s worth if you allow it be. It’s changed my life.

    Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink
  3. starbadger wrote:


    Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Permalink
  4. k wrote:

    i lurk, but i did want to say that you’re inspiring in a zillion ways and i wish all the best for you in every moment and hour left. thanks for being a very positive example.

    Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Permalink
  5. kate wrote:

    interesting dynamic to share your stories in a group setting. i used to have cognitive behaviorial therapy on a weekly, one-on-one basis (due to my social anxiety) with my psychotherapist.

    learning different coping methods made it worth it, but over the years spilling my heart and soul, and sometimes even omitting the truth to move things along, has lost its appeal for me.

    i am definitely cursed by a ‘would rather help others’ than ‘be helped’ response in that regard.

    Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 10:58 am | Permalink
Wow Shannon, that's really annoying! What is it, 1997 on Geocities? Retroweb is NOT cool!

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