On Physical Pain

Fire was shooting in my nerves in rapid succession. The pain woke me up. I’ve experienced hurt, discomfort, illness, but nothing had ever felt excruciating before this moment. The pain stole my sleep. I wanted so badly for it to all be a nightmare the dreamcatcher above my head missed; knowing there was an ending. But it wasn’t. It was 2am on a Tuesday. And if I could feel anything beyond the throbbing, it was hopelessness.

My tears were so mad they only came in a fit, not an easy stream of sorrow. The tears were trying to offer relief. They weren’t successful. The virus was winning. The virus was left over from my childhood chickenpox and stayed dormant, waiting in my body for the moment to strike. It had been twenty-seven years and I didn’t have warning at its arrival. The virus laid under the cover of health until worry weakened my immune system. A recent uptick of stress in my life gave Shingles the opening it needed.

I felt betrayed by my body. I hadn’t felt this before. People writhe in agony from more extreme illnesses daily and I wanted to summon their strength, but I couldn’t possibly think beyond myself and my body compressed into a ball of suffering. Pain makes us selfish. The words all-consuming gave new definition while I held my arm, willing it to come back to me.

And then, hours later, it listened. My body stopped fighting itself. But I didn’t know when the pain will surge again, I had no control. Over the next week, I tried to put my body’s needs first—do I have enough energy to do _______, how am I feeling, what do I need—were all rotating questions, awaiting the virus’s response.

Those questions, of course, are what my body required me to ask to avoid the stress, the attack.

I have remains of the fire on my upper arm, scared by the rash that bubbled from the nerves. It’s now my reminder to check-in with the only body I’ve been given, keeping it whole, healed.

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