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Pain – The Only Way Out

11/03/2017 15:13 EDT | Updated 11/03/2017 15:14 EDT

There I was, sitting in a lukewarm Goodlife Jacuzzi after a quick lap around the pool, and all my body could do was recoil in pain. I choked the grumbles into a tight grimace and let out a loud breath.

My friend was alarmed. Our workouts were cut shorter and shorter, my energy was noticeably lethargic, and my spirit was down.

I laughed, "I think I'm in less pain than I was 5 minutes ago." I told him earnestly.

Pain takes you inside yourself, but keeps you from bringing others in. My deflective attempt at humour baffled my friend to a point that I realized it was finally time to let him in.

"I'm in pain, man. It's always there, in the background, on at least some level, but my mind manages to not remind me of it when its at normal level. When there's some sort of change, for better or worse, it's all I notice."

When I described this later to my siblings, my brother bragged that it fit into his theory of relativity like a glove.

We're an odd family.

He first applied his ingenious theory to haircuts. It goes something like this:

You should purposely look bad and grow your hair longer than you ought to. That way, when you do cut your hair, people will definitely notice how good you look.

Clearly what Einstein wanted the title of his theory to be misappropriated as, right?

The problem with it, though, was that I was suffering from a not yet diagnosed mild autoimmune disease that would flare to rebel against its "mild" label intermittently. So while my brain was no longer steadily sending me explicit pain signals, the rest of my body knew I was in trouble.

My muscles were tense – always. My nerves were constantly in fight or flight mode, which made me hypersensitive to everything. The process of actively ignoring the pain was my brain's full-time job, making whatever I was doing secondary. Multitasking was an impossible ask and constantly led to frustration. Throbbing headaches came and went like a visiting friend. Being overwhelmed with pain would present itself in a dazed, white look. Sleep took a hit, as did my attention and short-term memory.

It was an insidious takeover of life, and I wasn't sure if the bouts of normalcy were gifts or an unwanted tease. The disease left quite a few doctors just as confused as I was.

In hindsight, of course, I consider myself lucky.

I was lucky to constantly have a social network and professionals that would give me the support, tests, advice, and space that I needed. I was lucky to work in a place that would go out of its way to make me feel comfortable when neither of us knew what was wrong. I was lucky not to have romanticized pain, and instead actively looked for the cause of it with professionals. I was lucky to have access to gym memberships that allowed for me to sit in a Jacuzzi to ease the pain, as well as discover Yoga and meditative practices that proved helpful. I was lucky that it was only a "mild" form of the autoimmune disease that I was suffering from.

I was lucky that I didn't try to self-medicate in harmful ways.

I was lucky that I was diagnosed with the root disease causing the pain and am capable of purchasing the appropriate medicine for it to not be a part of my equation.

Others, however, aren't so lucky.

According to a Canadian Community Health Survey quoted in StatsCan, chronic pain affects 1 in 10 Canadians. In the United States, the stack-cost of chronic pain is more than an estimated $60 billion when factoring healthcare expenses, lost income and lost productivity. Chronic pain is linked to poor mental health, with poor stress management and anxiety often acting as a multiplier of its intensity. Many people turn to opioids to numb the pain; a likely factor in the growing crisis costing 2458 lives in 2016 in Canada alone.

The latter crisis is being taken seriously at the Hill, but while the problem is obvious to all, the communal solution is still unclear.

On an individual level, I have learned to agree with the saying "that the only way out is through."

If you are suffering, I hope you find the right help you need to get to the other side - no matter how long your search lasts.

It doesn't take Einstein to know that it is a relatively better place to be.

Best wishes,

Yaman Al-Nachawati

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