Walking With Pain (“I’m Not Really Enjoying This”)

“I’ll go early to beat the crowd”, I think, carefully threading my right foot through the trouser leg. “I’ll feel less self-conscious as I hobble slowly around the store”.

I need coffee and cherries. Both should help in different ways.

My wandering imagination is slapped around the face by a sharp intake of breath as my toe brushes the cotton. “Ahhh, you absolute $*dha&^&shffaaaah!!” I’m not censoring a word there…It’s an attempt to spell the noise that comes from the reactive core of my being. It’s like a laugh but more roarful with hints of whimperage and despairing anguish.

“I’m not really enjoying this.”

My Inner Monologue

The surging wave of burning pain breaks on the shoreline where my toes meet the ground. I laugh at the somewhat typical understatement. I welcome my old friend – the dry-witted inner monologue. He’s right. I’m not really enjoying this.

Walking With Pain - tunnel vision towards the eye of the storm

Walking With an Inner Joker

I’m unsure if it sets out to calm me down by downplaying situations. I think back to some particular favourites: “Oh, this is how it feels to be in a car crash, at least you know now”, as I faced the wrong way in my freshly written-off car. And “it doesn’t look like this week is going to turn out as you planned” when news signalling the beginning of the end of my marriage was dropped on me from the top bunk of a small hotel cabin in Copenhagen.

My inner monologue seems to find something obvious, banal, and amusing in many situations. It helps.

“Hey man, good to hear from you!”

I call the inner meeting to order so we can plan our operation. “First, no, I’m not really enjoying this*”, I agree. “But we need coffee and cherries”. No one seems to argue. We’re all in agreement.

*“This” turns out to be an acute gout attack lasting the best part of two weeks. It is not a cute experience and hasn’t been the best part of the past two weeks. But here we go. We’ve got to play the ball as it lies. It’s in the rough, nestled up to a tree, and there’s no obvious route back to the fairway.

The inner meeting starts.

“OK, I read in more than one place that cherries are good for reducing uric acid. It might be too late to stave off this attack, but we need to do something”. Everyone agrees, and Operation Coffee Cherry begins. “We will go straight to the back of the store to get coffee, then come back to the fresh produce department for cherries”. Everyone agrees. I set off. Slower than I’d like. Oh, I hate being restricted like this.

Too Slow For Comfort

I don’t park in my regular space opposite the exit of the supermarket carpark. It’s too far from the front door. It feels weird, but I drive closer to the shop and find a space I’ve not previously used. “This is exciting. Something new!” I think to myself. “No, you need to get out more”, comes the response. I’m not sure which of the inner voices said that.

I peel myself out of the car just as the person gathering trolleys walks past. He’s collecting the waifs and strays from around the lot. Somehow we become locked in a strange kind of dance. We’re on the same pathway.

I want to accelerate to get out of his way, but I can’t. My limp won’t let me. I suddenly feel on display. Conspicuous.

Am I trying to out-pace the pain? I think so. “Too fast!” My body shakes its head and rolls its eyes as I hobble through the door and slowly make a beeline towards the coffee. I get the sense my body thinks this was a bad idea. Come to think of it; I’m not sure it had its say at the earlier meeting.

Anyway. Deep breath. Exhale. The pulsing throb is surging through my foot. I look down, expecting it to look like it feels; expanding and contracting like a cartoon thumb that’s been hit by a hammer. It seems normal enough. It’s just a shoe. The same as everyone else’s.

But how are they all finding this so easy?

On my way out, I notice a couple of other people with slightly pained expressions in their eyes. Is it just me, or are other people limping too? I’m probably imagining it, but I can’t help but think of the pain behind the scenes of all these lives around me.

What are they walking with?

Maybe we’re all moving around with something in our shoes, slowing us down, rubbing on our feet, and causing us to stumble. Perhaps it’s not always noticeable. It’s not always loud. But it’s there. At least occasionally. It gets all of us.

This state of enforced slowness is making me overthink again. The pain is causing me to hallucinate the imagined hidden worlds of people living in shoes.

Oh, anything to distract me for the briefest moment.

This is a particularly noisy feeling. I can hear it in everything I attempt to focus on. It screams like an insatiable demand for attention. Noise fills my head with pressurised energy that pushes my ability to cope to the limits. I want to escape it. To turn it off or at least tone it down.

It’s a scant consolation, but I remind myself that pain is not the problem. It’s the solution. My body’s intelligent way of talking to me. Communicating. Asking. Pleading. The voice that says, “Umm, Andy, could you please get your hand out of the fire…we might need it for other things you enjoy doing.”

“I’m trying”, I reply.

“Okay, thanks. Now that you’ve got your cherries pop them in, and let me do the rest. Literally. Please. Let me do the rest. Rest.”

It’s not easy, but I eventually cede to its demands. The voice telling me to understand, fix, and control the problem is loud. The blame, the advice, the desire to dominate and possess.

But there’s a quiet voice beneath the noise. Gentle, patient, and without judgement, repeating, “Trust me, just rest”.

“OK, I’ll try. But so that you know, I’m not really enjoying this”.

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