I’ve just finished a book proposal and a reflection on it for my MA and I have to say that they are the most painful 16K words I have ever written. Not emotionally, nor intellectually, but physically painful. The proposal was for My Little Book of Pain, a book on Pain Management by an insider – me – that shows a viewpoint from an non-professional, independent insider, one who is going through the process. The reflection, of course, was on that process.
It showed just how much I rely on the distraction component of writing to help control pain. When writing I disappear into the book, story, reflection or research – whatever it is I am doing – and, in the intensity of that immersion, I forget my physical body. It’s a great disconnect and it helps manage the pain.
The trouble came from, in hindsight, an obvious place: what if, when writing to control and avoid pain, you are writing about pain and the way you have experienced and controlled it?
The answer is ‘ouch’.
When using distraction techniques you literally do something else to distract yourself from your pain. Pacing is required to ensure that the pain isn’t aggravated, of course, and the activity should be something that does not, in itself, trigger the pain. In my case, that non-painful activity is difficult (as my arms and hands are involved!), but the abstract world and intense concentration required to write is so immersive that pain is numbed and becomes something put to one side.
All I can compare it to is that, rather than the pain being removed from me, it is similar to the effect of taking opioids: I am taken away from the pain, to a distant place.
When writing about the pain I found I was having to so concentrate on remembering what I did, when I did it and what the results were. I was having to remember the mistakes and the pain they caused in order to write about it. That meant the distraction was non-existent; the world I normally built to remove myself from pain was the world of pain into which I was immersing myself.
It hurt. A lot. And it’s a lesson I will remember.
(But, of course, it’s finished, now!)