The Power of Pain

I am really reading something entirely different, but I wedged in a real-live paperbook as part of an effort to try sorting out a backproblem. It´s not a big problem, I don´t have discs slipping or anything like that, but after a really big cold with a few months of coughing last year, it´s like my muscles freeze up between my shoulderblades and sometimes this spreads and I get stiff from head to toe, more or less.

I went to the doctor, finally; he said the bones in my spine lock together, and showed me a trick to get them to come off: you lie on the floor, knees pulled up, on a broomstick, which you place at a 90 degree angle to your spine. Then you move it one centimeter a minute. If that doesn´t help, a physiotherapist can shake me loose, he says. I got some stretching exercises as well. Apparently, one can not do too much stretching. It doesn´t feel as I got to the root of it, though. The knees are protesting, I sleep badly, and am rather irritable. If you ask me what I want most of all, it´s to stop time for a few months where I can be all alone and catch up. 

All this made me think of a book I used to own, by French physiotherapist Thérèse Bertherat, "The Body Has Its Reasons" (1976, in France). I read it several times, but it was a long time ago and now I really only remember one exercise where you roll a ball under your foot to release muscle tension all along the back of your body. And I remember the word for her therapy: anti-gymnastics. I thought I might re-read it, but unfortunately it is not published in e-book format. Instead, I picked up a later book of hers from the library, "Kroppens budskap" (= the message of the body, or in the original: "Courrier du corp", 1981). In this book, she repeats her message and also writes about what she learned from publishing her first book. It´s quite interesting to read the stories of patients coming to her with the expectations from reading her first book.

It´s not really a self-help book, not the usual kind, anyway. There are a few exercises, but there is hardly a whole recipe for wellness, or the way to achieve a perfect, beautiful and symmetrical body, which is what she thinks we all have, or had, before we ruined it with warped habits and ideas. The exercises are more like demonstrations of what she is saying. We carry pain in our bodies, she says, and we encapsulate emotion that we don´t want to deal with, from emotional or physical trauma, or just the ongoing pain of a life badly lived. And, she says, backing this up with several examples, many, many of us don´t want to get well. Physical pain and suffering is percieved as a free pass from grown-up responsibilites and being accountable for one´s own life. She exempts those born with deformities and those crippled from disease, accidents or other kinds of violence, but really no others. She says we are capable of doing great harm to our bodies, but we are also able to heal them. But, she says, no therapist of any kind can do it for you.

I have heard this from others later, but I believe Bertherat was the first author that suggested this to me. I don´t question the truth of it; I see this unwillingness to change and grow in every person I know, myself very much included. We don´t go to the doctor when we should, we don´t take our medicine, we don´t do our exercises, we eat the bad food instead of the good, we don´t get enough sleep or rest, remain in crappy relationships, and what starts out as an easily curable little ache, may over time transform into something more sinister, more permanent, and much harder to deal with. It´s not easy, though. If pain, or prerequisits of pain, can remain in the body for years, one´s whole life even, and then add later events and circumstance to that, you get a complex problem that is not easy to understand. Which is why, I think, Dr Phil once said on his show that problems are complex, but solutions are easy. His point being, I suppose, that we should focus on solutions. But how do we know which one is the right solution? I´m not sure what Dr Phil would say, but I know some who would say that any solution is better than doing nothing: you have to start somewhere.

Keeping the health balance gets harder with age. I can see how I am much more fragile now and can´t really push my body to exist for long periods on little sleep, sugary foods, stressful demands. My body is saying "enough" and demanding some attention. However, there is a difference in saying to the world: "I can´t be at your beck and call, because I want to remain well," or saying "I can´t be at your beck and call because I am in so much pain (look how much pain I´m in!), and actually, you should wait on me." It´s easy to see who has the strongest currency, and the most power.

Towards the end of the book, this is what Bertherat says about (and to) her patients:
"... those who have long been searching for themselves will often find confirmation of what they have found elsewhere, their mental confusion is confirmed in the confusion of the muscle- and nervous systems, and they also get confirmation of the connection - positive and negative - between all the aspects and expressions of their personality. 
There are, however, people for whom this is only discouraging and even contemptible. Those who set a goal and a time limit to reach it will not like anti-gymnastics. I know anti-gymnastics are in its infancy and I can´t know any better than those who participate in my groups how far it can go. Even those who think they will one day be able to say "Heureka!" because all is revealed to them, will be disappointed. They think that their deepest truth "once and for all" shall be revealed to them. I, for my part, don´t believe in "once and for all"-revelations, but I do believe in a constant revelation, a prolonged work that is as subtle and as complex as a human being."
(my translation)
For myself, I am thinking that perhaps I just want to do too much living and be all things to everybody. Perhaps my expectations are just too high. Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian has an interesting point. The truth is out there. And in here. Being constantly revealed.

No comments:

Post a Comment