He came for massage sessions as often as he could. Sometimes once a week. Sometimes twice. Sometimes he would talk during the sessions. Occasionally, he would quietly cry.
When I asked questions so that I could understand more of the specifics of his pain, he would tell me of the hundreds of doctors that he had been to at that point, the number of surgeries that didn't help. A scale of 0-10, with 10 being the worst pain imaginable, was absurd. He was at 15. Every day. On bad days, he was at 20.
Massage helped. Sort of. He experienced a temporary reduction in his overall pain during the sessions. But after a few weeks of working with him, he told me that the single most helpful part of the sessions was that he didn't have to pretend to anyone that life was normal for him. A whole hour. Once or twice a week.
"After a while," he said, "no one wants to hear about your pain. I've learned to not talk about it."
At the time, I didn't think what I was doing was good enough. I wanted to do something to take the pain away. Even briefly. I wanted a glimmer of hope for something that he no longer believed in.
It was very hard for me to accept the trend of pain management, suggesting that the pain would be constant and it was simply a matter of learning to live with it.
That difficulty is one of the main reasons that I left my massage therapy career behind for several years, and pursued further education and multiple alternative career options.
But ultimately, I came back. And it's absolutely the best career for me.
Partly because I realized that regardless of what I was studying or what population I was working with, I was always interested in the question of how to change our relationship to pain. All kinds of pain. Mental, emotional, physical. The ruptures and disruptions that we experience on all levels.
Now, fifteen years after that first encounter with a client's unrelenting pain, I feel incredibly lucky to be able to study not just further techniques for working with the body, but also for the accessibility and availability of information on the way the brain is involved in pain. To work with an individual's pain and create a new experience for them in their body is also to work with the brain.
I'll explore the specifics of this relationship between pain and the way our brain processes that information in a future post, but if you are interested, the first chapter in The Brain's Way of Healing by Norman Doidge provides a clear overview and some fascinating stories.
It isn't quite right to talk about pain as something exciting. The deep and profound effects that pain has on individual lives and those who support them are devastatingly real.
But there is a lot about what we are learning about chronic pain that is exciting. We understand now a real potential for changing it. Not just managing it, but changing it. Reducing it. Even, eliminating it.
I look forward to sharing more about the specifics of what I'm learning with you in the weeks to come.