In a recent bout of physical pain, I realized that physical and mental pain feel almost identical, if of the same extremity. This theory may only work on the ‘extreme truly horrible’ end of the scale, but at least in that context, the sensory experience is almost indistinguishable.
Both physical and mental pain have left me rolling around, holding my damaged body part, clawing at my own skin in the desperate hope that I might either exorcise the feeling or distract my tortured senses. I have literally tried smashing my head against the wall to get the pain to stop. I have adopted the fetal position. I have smushed my face into the floor while my eyes rolled back in my head. I am fairly certain that my outward appearance is the same: crumpled face, teary and pleading eyes, roving hands, flailing limbs, slumped shoulders, moans and screams.
The mental pain I have described elsewhere on this blog. Typically brought on by extreme anxiety, self-hate, frustration, and just plain awfulness. The physical pain I have recently experienced is that of my period. Some of you may say, ‘ha ha’, or ‘I’ve read this before’ and roll your eyes. ‘Girls!’ some of you (and not just boys) may sigh, and groan. Fuck you. You can leave, now. …
My menstrual cramps have become a hated beast from Tartarus. For two days each month, I am woken with pain. I will take codeine, because it is the only thing that has any effect. Until it starts to work, I spend my time experiencing the pure antithesis of ecstatic pleasure. I have never felt so much pain in my life. I am truly, literally in capacitated. I can barely breathe. I am reduced to tears, reduced to a starving wretch bleeding to death in a muddy rut, with no help available. I’ve wanted to die with absolutely suicidal fervor. I do not know how to express in a serious fashion how much pain I was in last week. Humourous pop culture references come to mind, like chest-bursters from movies and video games. It was not humourous. I have no interest in being funny about this. If I could have gotten myself to a hospital, I would have sucked the cock of the first nurse to promise me morphine.
With that charming image in mind, which will probably be a bit devastating to my mom if she’s still reading (sorry!), let’s return to mental pain. Once the painkiller finally kicked in, and I fell down in exhaustion, it hit me how similar my experience was to mental pain. My brain processed it as the same feeling. My body expressed it in a very similar way. It was primal, dark, and agonizing. There is something about the word ‘agony’ that captures it better; the feeling is one that requires immediate action, the imperative to do something now, and the desperation to escape hell. There is a wrong being inflicted, something wrong beyond reason, rationality, or sense – wrong in the deepest and most instinctual, incontestable manner.
The Wrongness Monster appears both in my crises and my painful episodes. I cannot deny its presence. I cannot escape the ring. It’s a champion boxer and I am not able to dance like a butterfly-sting like a bee, thank you very much. Interestingly, with both cramps and crises, the WM is invisible, and frankly everyone else finds its existence dubious. If my bone were snapped in two and the femoral shaft were sticking out of my quadriceps, arteries spurting blood and fat tumbling to the ground, the WM would be kind of announcing its presence with authority, having a rave with other WMs on my body. That kind of activity is ‘real’. It’s easy to see why I’m reacting so violently – there’s a fucking WM on the scene! Danger! Call 911! Get the Ghost Busters!
The WM that causes my anxiety meter to burst the mercury exudes some kind of spores or hallucinogenic gases, which then blind all passers-by to its presence. ‘What’s wrong?’ ‘CAN’T YOU SEE THE MONSTER?’ ‘No…uh…’ So everyone thinks we’re mad, and then we get locked up in some room in a hospital, where the WM can wreak havoc, break things, poke us with branding irons, and then we take all the blame for the damage! Convincing people that there is something deeply, truly wrong when there is nothing to see but blinding pain without an obvious cause, this is next to impossible. The WM’s spores make other people’s wrongness sensors go numb.
But ultimately we feel the same. We feel the pain as if we’re on an endless tundra, stabbed with frostbite again and again, but nowhere to hide, no way out. It’s all unspeakably wrong, impossible to describe, but it’s real.