I’m frustrated. I read a lot. I read a lot of books about health. As someone interested in chronic conditions, not only as a practitioner but as a friend to someone who deals with a chronic condition, I read a lot of those books. Chronic pain is a big one. I saw The Pain Chronicles: Cures, Myths, Mysteries, Prayers, Diaries, Brain Scans, Healing, and the Science of Suffering advertised and started to read it but it fails in a couple of ways that many books on chronic pain or chronic illness fail.
The author writes about how hard and difficult it is to be so afflicted. Yes, it is hard. This part is true. The frustrating part is they learn nothing. Nothing changes. It is as difficult on the last page as on the first. I may have, in this book, learned a bit about the western science behind pain. I have learned nothing in terms of helping my patients cope. I have learned nothing that gives me any more empathy than looking someone in the face who struggles daily. I have nothing new to offer them.
The downfall I see in so many of these personal journeys is that the author continues to hold out hope for their old self. Nothing will heal them except to get their old self back, no matter how many years pass. Acupuncture is never mentioned in this book except to say it didn’t work. We hear nothing of the practitioner. Although given that she says she doesn’t believe in alternative medicine, I shouldn’t be surprised. For the author any emotional stuff that goes on is FROM the pain, not concurrent with it. As an acupuncturist, of course we know that certain types of imbalances create certain emotional predispositions. Certainly as that imbalance gets worse the emotional part also worsens. However, is it BECAUSE of the pain or concurrent as part of the general imbalance?
The author and others like her continue to write as if there is no question but that they must suffer. Telling them otherwise is to keep them from listening. While I appreciate that pain and sickness seem to require suffering, both may be uncomfortable but it is our reaction to it, the refusal to give up that old self, that causes suffering.
That’s what is so hard. To really heal from whatever our wounds we often must give up that cherished self. For some people it may mean healing from a physical illness. For others from an unhappy life. Each of us has our wounds that require we grow and change. It is only by trying to remain the same that we suffer. That’s what I find sad about these books. When the author doesn’t get that they need to change–and yes those kinds of changes are a struggle. They are hard. They are momentous but only through those changes can we realize that maybe we don’t have to suffer.
I want to say that I am not saying anyone who has a chronic illness or pain must do this. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to do. No wonder people write books like this. However, if you do write a book and it is personal, please learn something first. Make your suffering different towards the end. Offer others who suffer what you suffered some hope. Give me a reason to read your book when I can hear your suffering
The books quite honestly fail when authors can’t make that leap. If you want to write about the Western thoughts on chronic pain, do so. Don’t add in your own search when you find nothing.