Friday, August 12, 2011

Killing Pain

OK.  So now, finally, at the ripe old age of 60, I've finally joined the ranks of those who have had a visit from the horrid monster who produces, directs and stars in the horrid movie known as Pain.

Before, I'd only ever seen him only from a distance, across a crowded room, fleeting eye contact. I'd watched him, had tracked him, had stalked him, had found him, had assisted others as they fought him, but had never been formally introduced to or personally invaded by him.

Now I know how he feels.
Now I really, really know how Pain feels. To me. Raped by Pain. In the shoulder.

About 4 days ago I developed hideous pain in my right upper quadrant. Hideous to me, at least. Completely invisible to others.

I'd been noticing crankiness at the shoulder but hey, what shoulder wouldn't be cranky given the amount of typing and mousing I do, and have done daily for the last couple years almost full time, and not much else? I kept going. I should mention that I type completely one-handedly, right hand.

About 4 days ago I found myself suddenly dealing with serious lack of range in the shoulder and acute pain on movement.

Um, I wonder where this is going to go, I wondered to myself. Where it went was into a full-fledged acute Pain experience, with no way to get comfortable, no position to sleep in*, no way to escape, really. I started taking aspirin, which made me feel like I was doing something to help myself, but didn't really seem to change the Pain much.

What does it feel like to be raped by Pain in the shoulder? It feels like hot lava sploots and shoots in every part of the entire upper limb, with every move or breath or change in position. There are moments when it's possible to function and distract oneself, but he's always there, maybe a bit distant, but never not there. When a shift of awareness or focus occurs, bam, he's right there, inside every neuron, every molecule, taking up every bit of virtual space he can in the whole cortex,  spreading inexorably, steadily capturing and controlling more and more of the meat puppet of the body each day. In deliberate fashion, he moves along raping successive nerves and muscles, twisting a spiral point into them, skewering them into submission, leaving them helpless and frozen in agonized contraction.

When I say, entire upper limb, I mean upper quadrant, including the right back, front and side of the neck (superficial cervical plexus) including upper chest and upper back, shoulder (front, back side), and entire arm (front, back, side) and all the major parts (shoulder, elbow, and hand).

He wasn't about to go away by himself. I realized I needed back up and moved as swiftly as I could to get some help.

This is the story as well as I can recall it:
About twenty years ago I had a severe (to me at least) whiplash episode, with major headache and pain on movement and point tenderness, which all went away, brilliantly, in one session of manual treatment by another therapist, inside about 15 minutes. The therapist had taken a workshop in a type of handling which included passively positioning the body part into a painfree, tenderness-free position, and holding it there for a few minutes, then carefully moving the part back out into a normal position again.

This impressed me so much that I built a whole manual therapy practice around doing just that with patients, which sustained me for years.

Details of the crash
I was driving along a Saskatchewan highway, August 1989. About 3 PM, bright daylight, good weather. I'd just gassed up and was driving along, doing the posted speed limit, holding a coke in my right hand, steering with the left.

A truck pulled up to the highway on a side road, from the left side, slowed but didn't stop, even though there was a stop sign.

It was crossing the highway. Right in front of my car. I couldn't believe it hadn't seen me coming. I mean, it was broad daylight. I was driving a small car, white, and maybe the driver didn't spot me, maybe the sun was low enough to have forced him to squint, making my car indistinguishable, invisible.. anyway, he said he never saw me. This was in the days before running lights on cars. People were asked to use their headlights during the day, but it wasn't mandatory. I did not have my lights on - I hadn't turned them back on yet after getting gas, and my hands were full.

I turned left a bit, hoping I could swing around the back end of his truck: I couldn't avoid hitting him, however, so at the very last nanosecond I cranked the steering wheel to the right, so that the impact would be spread out along the side of the car rather than all at the front end.  Then the crash.

I wish now I'd dropped the coke, but instead, as the collision happened, my arm was jolted, still holding the damn coke can, still mostly full. I distinctly remember feeling the jolt in the shoulder. Biceps were contracted because I was holding a stupid coke. Musculocutaneous nerve got jerked. It has never really had enough space in there, ever since.

I ended up with a painless restriction in shoulder movement, specifically internal rotation with arm in 90 degrees of abduction, elbow bent to a right angle. Think of a stick through a straw scarecrow's shoulders, emerging at the elbows; hands pointing up toward the sky is external rotation, and the hands hanging down toward the ground is internal rotation. My left hand could point down, but my right hand stayed up in the air, pointing forward. It was as though it was stuck there.

It didn't bother me much: when I attended ortho school for a brief time in the early 90's, I was told by an instructor that my humeral head was anterior in the socket, and he shoved it back. Very perfunctory. It not only didn't hurt, I felt nothing. Nothing. My brain learned nothing. The restriction was not changed by his heroic.

It didn't bother me much: when it did, once, giving me some minor grief back in 2001 or thereabouts, I went to a friend who was a massage therapist and had him noodle around at the lateral edge of my shoulder blade until it felt like I could move it easily and comfortably again. I was left with the internal rotation restriction, but what the heck. It didn't bother me much.
In retrospect, this was the open window. This was the body bit, the body function, neglected by me, that Pain found, cased, then eventually climbed in through, to invade my personal existence.

Back to present time
So, for whatever reason, whatever the way the moon lined up this month with the planets and stars, the weather, stress from too much recent interpersonal activity, my inexorable aging process, maybe a brain fed-up with a steady diet of mono-movement, maybe a combination - who knows -  Pain found his way into my personal space and invaded my interoception, raped my shoulder, stole my movement, seemed to be threatening to set up permanent residence, was starting to use very creepy torture devices, ones that could only be interoceptively sensed, not seen or prepared for.

I knew I needed help ASAP. I contacted the PT who had contacted me when she moved to town in the winter, had organized the workshop I taught in June. She is quite keenly interested in pain and in helping people deal with it. She was a kindred spirit in that she had tasted ortho koolaid but hadn't gulped the whole glass. Both of us had instinctively known we didn't like the handling that was often involved, or the mindset, or the callous disregard, both interactively and conceptually, of the nervous system of the patients being handled, specifically their interoception and afferent capacities. Both of us were well aware of Pain.

She is also a midwife. She has had 4 children. She has conquered pain from all sorts of angles on several occasions, in herself and while helping others. I respect somebody who has given birth, endured the Pain of it, and lived. I never have. The very thought has always made me feel cognitively dissonant, as in, why would anyone ever willingly go through something like childbirth?, even as I noted that it's normal for Homo reproductus.

The shoulder
Weirdly, even though I realized this exact same presentation was labelled "frozen shoulder" and is common in women, especially older women, and I couldn't do anything with my arm, and pretty much everything hurt it, I continued working. Yes, believe it or not. As it turns out, I was reasonably comfortable while using my arm from the elbow down, and pressing on table tops or my bed or against peoples' bodies with that arm even felt a bit relieving. So I was able to fake my way along through Tuesday and Thursday fairly well. I was really anticipating my session though, yesterday after work.

The treatment
Kirsten allowed me the freedom to do whatever I needed to do in the moment. It was painful to lay on my back, but I knew I wanted her to take my arm off the edge of the table, into shoulder extension, lay it gently and slowly on a pillow, find the core of that monster, Pain, on the front of my shoulder, touch him with one hand, put her other hand behind my shoulder/upper arm, from underneath, at the bend, and press steadily up with the ends of her fingers using her lumbricals. Push him the hell out of me. As soon as she did that, I could feel a shifting going on.

Other nerves screamed as Pain ran around raping them, simultaneously, but I knew this place was his whole tap root, ground zero, the entrapment of the musculocutaneous nerve inside coracobrachialis, from 20 years ago, what the restriction had been all about, right from the beginning. This is what I'd neglected to go get treatment for lo, all these many years. This was all my own fault. This was my battle, not anyone else's. No one could rescue me but me.

I was up for mortal battle - I wanted to full-on murder that rapist bastard, Pain. I was angry, cold, calculating and not in a mood to take prisoners. This was between me and whatever my immune system had decided to dish me. If Pain was a movie, starring him, he was about to be vanquished, by Me, or at least by the "I"-illusion I call Me, because this is my body, my physical existence, my biological real estate, dammit. Life is crappy enough as it is, out there, and this my body is the only place I really ever have felt safe or at home. I own my own body, dammit. No matter what sorts of cultural ideas would try to deprive me of bodily sovereignty. I know them all in detail. E.g., "Right to Life" (whose fucking life? MINE!!)..  

So I endured/ignored all the screaming going on in all the other centrally sensitized nerves - superficial cervical plexus, distributed like the right half of a hijab. All the brachial plexus, the whole hand.

My goal was to keep Pain confined only to where it had already colonized me, not let it get any farther, fight hard to get back my body for me. I took the immediate increase in all the rest of the nerve distributions as confirmation that Pain was trying to fight back.

But I was relentless. I could still breathe. So I focused on deep breathing as the next couple minutes (that felt like hours) ticked by. I know the right length of time to spend on something, from decades of occupying the other end of the treatment dyad.

Kirtsten and I checked in with each other. She felt the softening happening at the front of my shoulder, and I knew that Pain had been stabbed in his heart, by her, by me, by our interaction; I knew that although he would not go down without a fight, or without trying to start more fires, he was eventually going to diediedie.

Finally I decided enough time had elapsed, that death of Pain was certain, and I needed to help the rest of my sensory cortex, indulge the anterior cingulate cortex by letting it express some escape behaviour. I got up on my feet, writhed about, wrestling with myself. Kirsten remarked that I looked like a woman in labour. I remarked that it felt like I was having a baby through my right upper quadrant. I said I was being an ideomotor moron. We both laughed. It was triumphant laughter, because I was letting my anterior cingulate cortex help my sensory cortex escape by giving it complete access to my motor cortex, and it was having me do some pretty remarkable moving. It felt a lot like contemporary dance might look, performed by a very inept and untrained dancer, kinda ugly-like; so, readers, best not to let your mirror neurons become too activated, because visualizing how this interior moving went down could be somewhat painful in and of itself.

But movement had to come out. Just like a baby comes out. Blood, gore (well, OK, no actual blood or gore), messy movement, biological and frighteningly primitive. But natural. And I killed Pain. I killed him with the help of my student, Kirsten, no stranger to any of this in that she has done movement like this herself while giving actual birth. Kind, steady, standing by, putting up with me, engaged, accompanying, permissive, calm, reassuring, letting me do what I needed to do, not interfering, accepting me in the heat of my battle no matter how ugly it was.

Right away, after about 5 minutes of this, the arm pain and superficial cervical plexus pain was much reduced. I could move the arm actively! A few degrees at least. We treated a few more places in a few more positions. I could now tolerate prone lying with the arm dangling. Kirsten sat on the floor and twisted the skin of my arm in slow snake-bite S's for delicious minutes and minutes and minutes. It felt like my arm relaxed and lengthened by inches. When I got back up it was truly better.

I had a great sleep. No more Pain. He's dead now, the miserable rapist bastard. At least for now. At least in me. But he still roams and assaults others, so I will hunt his sorry evil ass and help other people kill him for as long as I have breath.

I have my life back. I almost have my shoulder back. There is still restriction. I still have to use my non-dominant hand for certain personal hygiene which shall remain nameless, and I still have to put on a bra by doing it up at the front then twisting it around, and Kirsten will have at it again next week, but I doubt I'll have to gear up to go full-tilt psycho on whatever dregs still remain. It will be more just a mopping up process. I won't have to be the killer again - I'll be just the cleaner.

Life is painful. We try to keep at least one little corner of it, our own body, pain-free. No one should ever have to endure captivity by pain. People either kill it, or learn to live with it, adapt to its presence, peacefully.
I think people need to be encouraged to kill it anyway they can, if they can. People also have to know it will be entirely an inside job, requiring strategy, planning and often recruitment of someone to assist. They need to have picked somebody carefully, well in advance. It is a truly dorsolateral prefrontal cortex-led inner activity. They must know that they will need a story-line, starring them, that they will need to assume the lead role, and that it will be the role of assassin, if they want to have their life truly back again under their own auspice. They will be faced with win-or-lose, black-or-white, kill-or-be killed/raped/crippled/maimed/paralyzed by Pain. It's a choice, and by now I know, deeply know, emotionally know, that it must be made, can be made, by anyone, including peaceful 60 year-old women who love cats and don't ever try to hurt anyone. The urge to kill is inherent in all biology, all organisms, a birthright. It is the last and final defense for the "I"-illusion against any enemy, real or imaginary, physical and external or sensed, experienced, internal. It is socially forbidden unless sanctioned for use by army or law enforcement. At the personal level, one has the biological right to deploy it for a good reason such as this, engage it  - strictly internally, and fully, without doubt or hesitation.

P.S.: My Kill Pain story-line has specific feminist overtones and undertones running throughout. It's the story I've been angry about all my life - power over, violation of, domination of physical bodies of helpless men, women or children. It's the story that gave me fuel to make myself get mad enough to become capable of committing murder. You'll need to make up your own story: Think of the grossest violation of your own bodily human rights you can imagine, feel how enraged it makes you feel, then fight back with everything you've got. Every claw and every fang. It's your right as a vertebrate with a human nervous system.  

* I finally worked out a position in which I could sleep relatively comfortably, for a relatively long length of time; prone, on top of three stacked pillows, forelegs folded like a quadruped, head turned left. I had to wake up fully in order to move. I had to physically get up to rest from having been in that position for a few hours, then resume that position to get more sleep.

More posts on this topic:
Killing Pain Part II

Killing Pain Part III

Killing Pain Part IV

Killing Pain Part V

Killing Pain Part VI 

Somasimple discussion thread about this post series.  

Scientific American: Anger Gives You a Creative Boost
This article is about interpersonal confrontation, however, I see no difference, from the perspective of the "I"-illusion, whether the perceived "foe" is external or internal.


Neil said...

Thank you for sharing your story of finding your way to be a fearless warrior - to approach the pain, be mindful of it, stand up to it, and be strong. It seems as you mention at the end, that all must find a way to do this - a way that works for their specific situation and self.

Joe Brence said...

Wow Diane...Great metaphor to describe your experience. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Diane - what is the therapy called where u position a bodypart in a non painful place, and can you suggest some references where i can read some more about that?

Diane Jacobs said...

StrainCounterstrain. The treatment concept is simplistic, structuralist, and very incomplete, but the technique itself is mild, gentle, slow, kind, effective. You can learn it from a book, like I did. You will not understand anything about it, but you would be able to perform it probably.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Dianne - i will love to 'learn it from a book'. I have no idea what is about, but am instinctively drawn to it. Many thanks

Diane Jacobs said...

Thank you for your comments, Neil and Joe.