As I’m writing this, I’m in quite a bit of pain. Friday last week, I experienced a minor kidney stone, one I was able to deal with by drinking a bunch of water and taking a couple of Tylenol. On Sunday, I had another kidney stone hit me, strong enough to force me to go to urgent care and get checked up. Monday, the pain hit in the late afternoon and I managed it with the prescribed Norco. Today, siting in a Starbucks, I’m drinking a bunch of water and decaf coffee, hoping that my current discomfort will dissipate soon.
I’ve written about kidney stones before. I’ve had so many now that I can’t remember all of them individually. I’ve done everything I can do to avoid them, but they still occur, taking over my life, ruining my plans and overshadowing all other concerns.
While I have talked about kidney stones and the kind of pain they produce, I don’t know that I’ve ever talked about dealing with the pain. In this moment, with an awareness of my internal organs I’d rather be without, all I can think about is the pain I’m feeling, so I’m going to talk about it. Maybe it will prove to be writer fuel for another story.
The present pain is physical. It’s a continuous pressure situated on my left side. It’s not a sharp pain, like a stab wound. It’s not a pinch or a burn. it feels like my kidney is twice the size it should be, crammed into a spot near my lower back without enough room to accommodate it. It doesn’t feel like a burn, but there is a sense of warmth to the pain.
It is pain that knows no compromise. I can’t sit in any position which makes it easier. If I apply pressure to my left side, it makes the pain a little bit worse, but not so intense as to drop me to my knees. It is persistent. Constant. Unrelenting.
It’s the kind of sensation that makes me think “This isn’t fair!” It’s the kind of pain that makes me want to plead and bargain for it to go away, but prayer hasn’t done any good so far.
What do I do about it? How do I survive?
Time for some dangerous honesty. I’ve had suicidal thoughts in the past, and while I’m not seriously considering suicide at the moment, death would be a mercy right now. Not for my family or for the people that care about me, but this isn’t a life affirming pain. This is debilitating. This is crushing. This is torture.
I thought that writing about this would help provide a distraction and help me get a handle on it. I’m at Starbucks. It’s Wednesday and I’m here to write tonight. A moment ago, I had to lock my workstation and run off to the bathroom to throw up. If you haven’t had pain intense enough to make you sick, consider yourself lucky.
Why am I writing about all this? Why am I putting you through what I’m going through? Am I such a monster that I would take this pain and force you to feel some measure of it through my words?
The thing about pain is that it is often invisible. When it isn’t invisible, it’s ignorable. When it’s not ignorable, it’s inconvenient, and we do whatever is required in order to bury the pain or make it go away.
In this Starbucks, there are two men sitting less than 10 feet away from me. I’m clearly visible to them, writhing in my chair, trying to keep myself still long enough to type this post, but they don’t see what I’m going through. After I left the bathroom from vomiting, I checked myself in the mirror. I’m pale, my eyes are bloodshot… the signs of distress are obvious to my eyes. But no one in this whole store has said anything to me. Not that I want them to, necessarily. It just strikes me as remarkable that I can be here among all these people, agony twisting me and reshaping my reality, and no one is aware.
There are people all around us every day, going through their own flavor of trauma. Maybe their pain isn’t as intense as a kidney stone, but it’s there. Maybe it’s in their joints. Maybe it’s in their stomach. Perhaps someone is struggling to contend with a migraine while still wearing a smile on their face, taking your order and making your drink while you’re just trying to move on to the next thing.
Not all pain is physical. If I have to say one good thing about this kidney stone, it’s that it alters my perspective enough to make me forget the other pains in my life.
Recently, I left my online critique group. I had a feeling that I didn’t fit in well. My insecurities are always telling me that I don’t fit in with the groups I associate, but I decided to check in and see if there was anything to it. My presence in the group created stress for the others. It wasn’t just in my head. I bowed out as gracefully as I could. I want to maintain the friendships, but I know that things will be different from now on. It’s another sort of pain that I can’t reason with, but it’s not the kind of discomfort that leads to me throwing up in a public bathroom. It’s the kind of pain that makes me want to spend less time around other people.
My Mom died 18 years ago this month. She was a difficult person to be around. Overbearing, competitive, and prone to anger. I share these qualities with her, and it makes me unbearable. In groups like the one I just left, it made me a source of pain. But unlike a kidney stone, I can be reasoned with, and I’m sympathetic.
I still feel the emotional pain from leaving that group. It is present, even now. But the kidney stone changes my perspective. Once this bout of kidney pain has run its course, my perspective will still remain altered, and the pain of leaving that critique group will be less.
What’s the point of all this? Why am I posting this? What are my parting thoughts this time?
If you’re a writer reading this, consider the affect of pain on your characters. Both emotional and physical. Pain makes people want to withdraw to lick their wounds. Intense pain isolates. Sitting here in this Starbucks while a tiny stone ravages my internals and ruins my day, I feel alone. Separate. Not all people deal with pain the same way, but they do deal with it. If your characters are going through some trauma, be it physical or emotional, make sure their reaction to that trauma is appropriate.
If you’re reading this because you care about me… thank you. I don’t want anyone to worry about me and I’m not calling out for sympathy or special treatment. This is just a time of pain, and the way I handle it is to take it apart, compartmentalize what I can, and push to get through to the other side.
As a call to action, I urge you to consider the other people around you with as much sympathy and empathy as you can muster. Chances are, there is someone near you at this very moment that is enduring pain you cannot see. Since you have no way of knowing who is suffering and who isn’t, the best thing you can do is treat everyone with as much love and kindness as you can afford.
Oh my friend! You words are quite the reminder to me as a nurse to continue to almost seek out how to walk alongside and bring comfort to others at all times, not just while at work. My empathy radar is on high alert for patients, family and staff while I am at work. I admit to being a bit more lax while I am at a place such as a Starbucks. I suppose I make an internal excuse of telling myself that persons sitting alone at Starbucks are working on something (internal processing, actual pay the bills kind of work or a project) thus I assume that they want to really be left alone. I should look at how I can dislodge myself from my comfort zone to step a toe into their bubble to show compassion, empathy and support.
I too have been tortured through many, many forms of pain: Forty plus years of emotional and verbal abuse (first from my mom, then from my ex.), natural child birth, a strangulated hernia, facing suicidal thoughts more than once, cancer, treatment from cancer, and (yes) kidney stones too. I believe all off these experiences had moulded me into a more resilient, empathetic and emotionally available person. I feel truly blessed to be with an amazing support system now. I have unique perspectives with physical and emotional pain which allows me to connect with people. Thank you for the reminder, my friend, to keep growing by connecting with others who are normally “overlooked.” There is a human gem sitting in a Starbucks who could use a little light to help them shine.
Hugs to you and your beautiful wife! I miss you two!