On disassociation as adaptation for survival: ruination by chronic pain

by Sarah Bigham 

I ponder the role of the epiglottis as I lie on my back. Such a regal-sounding word for a flap of skin that serves a purpose unknown to me. At least my epiglottis does not hurt. It may be the only body part that sends no pain signals today.

I ponder my co-workers who leave work to head to kids’ soccer games, the grocery store, choir practice, yoga class, mountain biking, or mounds of laundry and sinks full of dishes.

I leave work and go to medical appointments, treatments, and the drug store where I have a first name relationship with every pharmacist, pharmacy technician, and store employee who helps out in the pharmacy when the line begins to snake.

I have so many diagnoses I must keep a list of them in my car, in my office, and in my purse, along with pages filled with daily medications, allergies, and phone numbers for doctors. One diagnosis is called interstitial cystitis. You have probably never heard of it. Look it up. It sucks.

I ponder the insanity of healing pain with pain:

–injections to my pelvic floor muscles and vulvar glands, or my “lady parts” as a friend likes to say because the words “vagina” and “vulva” make her pulse pound and neck sweat when she thinks about anyone enduring needles in such areas

–pelvic floor physical therapy with gloves and wands and cotton swabs and draped sheets to give the illusion of privacy in a situation when it is abundantly clear to both people in the room that there is no way to pretend that one of you is not literally inside the other

–deep tissue massage that left purple bruises, some flowering outward like spring tulips past their prime, others spearing deeper like permanently inked fingerprints

–fascial stretch therapy that made me pray for forgiveness for transgressions I never even contemplated, tears dropping from my lashes with every agonizing hip rotation

–capsaicin cream, derived from chili peppers, that burns my vulvar skin three nights a week as if being roasted over a spit and that I dream of throwing away in the middle of the night, suffocating it under the residue of the gluten-free meals I must now also eat, having even the comfort of bread being taken from me

I am on my back for all or part of these interventions, always on the receiving end of probing, projections, prescriptions, or pain. (I left the care providers trading in pomposity and deal strictly with the pleasant ones now.)

What to do with this body I have, not the one that I wanted?

Where is the person I used to be?

Is this me?

During a night with friends some years ago, a board game prompted us to reveal what creature we would want to be, if not human. At the time, I wanted to be a house cat, but I have now learned that they, too, can get interstitial cystitis so I have changed my wish.

I want to be a weevil, a maize weevil specifically, living on a farm free of pesticides. I want to be snugly ensconced in my individual corn kernel with no requirements other than to eat and sleep, eventually gnawing my way out toward the sunlight.

An odd wish, but one I contemplate often while on my back, staring at the always-painted-white ceilings.

A weevil.

A weevil, indeed.

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