Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Take Two Codeine and Shut Up About It

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To view your life as blessed
does not require you to deny your pain.
It simply demands a more complicated vision,
one in which a condition or event
is not either good or bad but is, rather,
both good and bad, not sequentially, but simultaneously.

I stumbled over those words—a poem, part of a poem, a prose poem?—in C. Hope Clark's newsletter, Funds for Writers, under Words for Success. I immediately recognized the name of the author, for I have read some of Mairs' writings on the state of disability, most importantly Waist-High in the World.

Mairs is a far more accomplished thinker than I will ever be, blending religion and feminism into her writing as well as disability. I can only challenge her words by saying the truth they express is but one truth. If they have meaning relevant to feminism, I am ignorant. If they have meaning relevant to religion, I will leave it to her to find her own way home and you to interpret the map of her journey.

I do think, in a logical and practical sense, pain can be "both good and bad," at least in the context of good health, whether with or without a disability involved. 

Nevertheless, I doubt that is part of the theme of Mairs prose poem, a truth that cannot be determined without asking her, of course. For all I know, the pain "both good and bad" may have been generated by some other circumstance, but given the nature of her writing and her disability, I suspect she is attempting to explore pain in the same way I might were I smarter and more literate.

As to the matter of good pain, that which is logical and practical, I can employ such pain to assure my health does not deteriorate. Because I am a quadriplegic with sensory perceptions, I know when I am near developing a pressure injury, and I can take care to prevent it. That's "good" pain, I'll grant.

Conversely, the pain of being disabled, at least for me, isn't good. Disregarding the pain that is physical, I speak about the pain that is psychological and emotional. Of course, physical pain  often exacerbates psychological and emotional pain, which can evolve into depression which is another acid-burning experience altogether.

The psychological pain of being disabled is immutable, at least in my experience, never fully disappearing. I have learned, as part of my coping mechanism, to be very much focused on The Now, and "the more complicated vision" Mairs describes, that element of pain which is "both good and bad," is an ethereal concept that I might find only when I am not in physical pain.

Or, to state that in a less complicated way, I might understand Mairs' concept of simultaneous good and bad only in those periods when I am not in physical pain, and even then any comprehension of her thesis would be distorted by the psychological shadows cast by paralysis. 

When I attempt to expand her philosophy beyond the physical point, I can find nothing "good," at least in the common usage of the word, in the pain of being a person with a disability. This, my singular concept of the person I am, may be why I cannot fully develop a concept of "disability pride."

A half-century of butt-surfing through Cripworld has taught me only this: my disability Is in the same way that gravity Is. 

As the great Viktor Frankl offered, when we cannot change circumstances, we must change the way we think about them. Reinhold Neibuhr composed an alternative vision in "The Serenity Prayer." Abraham Lincoln said, "Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be."

My father would have told me that this mini-rambling-lament is nothing but "Poor me," and he would suggest I do something productive. I think he was more correct than I realized then. To complain about the immutable is to shout into the wind, and so I try to remember his words, his own sense of predestination, and wake up each day with a sense of optimism and curiosity.

So, if you find yourself all cripped up, in pain physical or emotional, and you want, in Mairs' thoughtful words, "To view your life as blessed ... " I suggest a cocktail of blended existentialism and stoicism. Down one or two daily, garnish with pain killers and anti-depressants according to taste.

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