In the last post, which was ages ago (I may or may not have forgotten my WordPress password and reset it. I’ll try to work on balancing the post-grad life with virtual posting…), I suggested that pain is a performance, albeit an unpalatable one that hurts the senses. This esoteric analogy might itself be painful to readers who are not steeped in performance theory. Please forgive me.
My goal in the next two posts is to concretize the eloquent theory (or god-awful gobbledygook, depending on your opinion) I posited over a month ago. Today’s post is a primer for the pain performance itself.
Several people, including a few who suffer from chronic pain and many who do not, are stuck on the idea that pain is psychological. “Your foot must be hurting because you’re stressed/upset/angry.” “If you focused more on the positive aspects of your life, you wouldn’t experience so much foot pain.” And then there are the corollaries: “You’re going on vacation next week, right? I bet your foot will feel better!” “Congrats on the new job! I bet your foot likes the good news.”
I like the good news, and my spirits usually follow accordingly. But to be honest, my foot could care less…unless the new job is going to physical therapy full-time (“yay”) or hiking Mount Everest (nay).
By no means do I intend to debunk all claims that pain has a psychological component to it. Biology and psychology perpetually intersect. But there is a difference between the manifestation of psychological (i.e. hysterical or fictional) pain and the perception of physical pain that is exacerbated or minimized by one’s current emotional state.
From my experience, it is not emotion per se that affects pain levels; rather, it is the narrowing or widening of focus on the pain that can intensify or tame the amplitude of pain. Cognitive concentration. P(l)ain and simple.
This is where we get to pain as performance.
Tomorrow I will take you into a concert hall of your choice to help you gain a better understanding of pain. Bring your opera glasses (or reading glasses if you’re part of the presbyopia crew).