That Damned Snake: An Essay on Pain

Written by Guest Author, Elliott Ridenour:

Like every day and night, I’m in a lot of pain. I’m not sleeping for about the sixth day in a row. Not to exaggerate, I have gotten a total of four hours over those six days. But there are lessons to be gained from pain. So instead of just sobbing (I mean I might do that too. There is not a thing wrong with crying, kids. It’s natural.) I just tried to study my pain. Understand it. Tried to see what it’s attempting to say. This is what I came up with and it actually helped me release some bitterness and hate I had toward this ever-present sensation.

Hello. My name is Elliott and I have to tell you, I’m having one hell of a time of it. A few months ago I made the decision to try to end my life. Rather than resulting in death, it resulted in a weeks-long coma, permanent damage to my body, and a nuclear explosion of heartbreak to everyone that matters most to me. 

These days I’m trying to find some sort of way to be, which has proven to be a long process. But one thing I have is an abundance of pain. Coming out of the hospital, I quickly saw that pain was not going anywhere. No level of narcotic could numb it. No amount of time would heal it. This was part of me now. 

Largely because I had no other choice, I decided I was going to learn from this pain. Everything terrible has lessons to pass on, and this teacher is the most persistent I’ve met.

I’m looking down at my leg. Not the only area in pain, but where it’s most focused. My leg is shaking and convulsing like an injured animal that has just been bitten by a poisonous snake.

Pain is a funny thing. It can drive you mad and it can make you strong. It’s horrible but we couldn’t survive without it. There is a condition called CIPA (Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhidrosis). It is a condition in which a person is unable to feel pain. Freedom right? No evil pain ever!

But no. It is an extremely dangerous condition. Without pain these people have extreme injuries, infections, illnesses, and have no idea. A splinter can lead to septic shock or even amputation. See, pain is not meant to hurt us, though wow, it sure does. It’s meant to protect us. It’s altruistic. It tells us when something is wrong. When something needs to be done. When something needs to change. It keeps us alive. A constantly alert creature that is looking for danger and letting you know.

My pain doesn’t realize that nothing is trying to hurt me. There is no threat. There is no injury. My spinal cord was damaged and the nerves are simply confused. Nerves are very easily confused. 

The pain doesn’t know better. It is not trying to be my enemy, though I would call it one. It’s unintentionally causing further brain disorder as it doesn’t want me to sleep. If I sleep, I can’t pull the venomous snake off my leg. The one that might be there, anyway.

But sleep is when most neurotransmitters are replenished and when many vital brain processes occur. If I don’t eventually sleep my brain will simply run out of what it needs. That’ll be trouble. But my guardian has priorities. The brain will survive a bit longer. Pull off the damn snake. Which isn’t there.

But my pain sure is trying. He’s trying to help, he’s just confused. Now that, that is relatable. My pain-guardian is going through what I am. He’s trying so damn hard to do right thing. Protect the ones he loves. To make changes that will recover my health and ultimately save me. But it’s just too much. Pain is confused. But by God, he’s trying. 

I know you, Pain. I’m trying too. I’m trying so hard. Harder than I ever have in my life. But I’m confused. I can’t find the snake.

Pain, you’re killing me, causing me damage. I did that too. I was confused. I was trying. So hard. And I made the wrong move and caused so much damage. To my mind, my body, my heart, and more importantly to every single person that I care about and love most in the world. Tears were shed for me. I often see them crying for me while I was dead, my body maintained by ventilators and tubes. I know of each person that cried and I can see them.

Pain, we’re one and the same. You hurt me. I hurt me. I hurt others. How can I hate you? What can you do better? What can I do better? I’m lost. My nerve endings are lost. Just like every single soul in this world, I’m fucking trying, but I don’t have all the answers. Right now I don’t have any answers.

I forgive you, friend. You’re making the wrong move. I can empathize with that. I challenge you to find anyone that can’t. You’re as blind as I was, just trying to find that fucking snake. I don’t hate you. I can’t. You love me. Right now I don’t love me. I hate me. But you’re setting a great example. You think my life matters. You want me to make it out of this before the venom hits my bones. I don’t know if you’ll ever figure things out. I don’t know if I’ll ever figure things out. So let’s both keep trying. 

Because pain, you understand one important thing. Life is not winning. Life is trying. It is trying and trying and trying, win or fail. 

I’m not winning. I know that. 

But I’m living, dammit.

Many thanks to Elliott Ridenour, the guest author of this piece and an indisputably fantastic human being.


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Thoughts? I will listen.