31 December 2021

"Sometimes I think this whole 'growing up' thing is just pain management."

--The Maxx

Seems like a pretty cynical take on life, doesn't it? In a sense, it is; it comes across as somewhat defeatist, as a way to write off much of the experience of life. Or at least as a dismissive and macho way of ignoring parts of reality. However, if you dig into it a little bit there is also more truth to it than it would seem at a cursory glance.

I've already written quite a bit lately on the topics of death and grief so I'll spare you a rehash (at least for a while). Suffice it to say that it's something that nearly everyone experiences and somehow comes to terms with. To be sure, there are other things. There's the daily grind (in the Before Times, anyway) of getting up every day, hauling oneself to work on the daily commute, and slouching back home at the end of the day. To say the daily grind doesn't slowly wear one away is falsehood, especially when one looks back at what they think they really wanted to do when they were younger and wonders where the hell everything went wrong. A rare few folks have the combination of drive, courage, opportunity, and understanding to make a jump in that direction.

Of course, there's physical pain. Folks who are long-time readers of my blog are probably familiar with my dental and mental health histories. I hasten to add that I am far from the only person who's been through those things but those who know, know. The same things applies to chronic health conditions: Neuropathy, migraines and cluster headaches, injuries that never quite healed right (perhaps the scar tissue impinges upon a few sensory nerves), the side effects of medication one may have to have, and the gnawing pain of RST to name just a few. The list goes on and on. Sometimes it's treatable (usually by treating the cause), sometimes it's mitigatable (when the cause can't be treated), and sometimes the only thing that can be done is learning to live with it.

There's really nowhere new that I can take musings on the various forms of pain. The phenomenon of pain has long been studied by medicine, the arts, and the humanities. More recently as history goes, pain has become a muse to artists of all stripes, particularly musicians. I'm still coming to terms with the changes in my life and writing about it is how I'm going about it. My mom's death aside, I know that my body has a shelf life like everyone else's, and I feel it incrementally, just like everyone else. Getting up in the morning it sounds like somebody dropped a fistful of dominoes onto a tile floor. At some point my joints will kick their complaining up a couple of notches. I haven't been in cold climes for quite a few years but when it does get cold I definitely feel it; my tolerance for high temperatures has also gone down considerably (though California's periodic hundred degrees Fahrenheit and above heat waves certainly don't help). I dread the next dental emergency that comes up due to the covid plague and things one would take for granted not being there when most needed (I refer to my orthodontist's office, specifically).

I'm not actually sure where I'm going with this. (I know, I say this a lot.) I didn't have a particular goal in mind, and while shower thinking is great for solving problems it doesn't necessarily lend itself to blogging. Plus, in the interest of full disclosure, I haven't been taking my adderall on the days I wrote this article because I've been enjoying my coffee over break. Which is ultimately the point I suppose. Pleasure is always fleeting; endorphins are metabolized fairly rapidly and euphoriants are... well, let's just say that they're questionable in many ways and leave it at that. The high of peak experiences lasts a handful of minutes, long enough to impress itself into long term memory but fades rapidly after the fact. Orgasms rarely last a half-minute at best, and while the mythical mind-bending orgasm does indeed exist it's not common and feels like it lasts as long as most other peak experiences. But pain? Pain keeps going, largely because pain tells us that something is wrong and will continue to be wrong until something's done about it. Stretching that cramped muscle, getting that bone set, clearing that infection out. And, importantly, to make sure that we (our higher cognitive functions that call themselves "I") don't do that particular thing ever again (in the event that we did, in fact, do something inadvisable).

"Enjoy every sandwich."

--Warren Zevon