27 October 2016

What Chronic Pain Teaches Me About Culture

Hi, world! It's been a long time since I've written here. But I'm feeling reflective, so here I am. :)

Over the past four years I have dealt with a lot of physical, chronic pain. It started in Uganda and has continued since moving to MN.

It started with a pothole.

Let me explain.

In April 2012, I was riding to visit some friends on a boda boda. It was just getting dark and we hit a pothole. There are potholes everywhere in Uganda but I remember that one because of how I was holding on to the boda behind me and got the wind knocked out of me when we bounced. Within a matter of hours I was in so much pain I could barely turn my head. I saw a doctor after a couple days of terrible pain who said it was likely a whiplash type injury, gave me some muscle relaxers, and suggested I try getting a massage or two. If that didn't help, she suggested I see a physio (English term for physical therapy). The meds and massage helped enough that I let it go and came back to the States about a month later.

After returning to the US I started to suffer from regular and horrible headaches and migraines. Since then I've also been rear ended several times (am I invisible?!) and I continue to deal with neck pain, headaches, migraines, and muscle spasms.

I know. This is kind of personal and may not seem to fit with the types of cultural and library related things I usually write. But I believe it IS culturally related.

You see, over the past few years, I've found myself trying many different remedies for my pain, each rooted in it's own cultural practice of healing.

I've tried:
  • Prescription medication
  • Over-the-counter medication
  • Herbal cremes
  • Prescription medicinal cremes
  • Acupuncture
  • Physical therapy
  • Chiropractic care
  • Yoga
  • Prayer
  • Exercise
  • Sauna 
  • Massage

And in trying all these things, I've discovered is that for me it's the intersection of all these methods and, dare I say, cultures that have led to (some) healing.

I grew up in what I think is a pretty American with regards to health: eat a balanced diet, go to the doctor when you get sick, take meds when you don't feel well. But as I've gone through this journey of regular, chronic pain, I've realized that healing is not always as simple as taking a pill.

The other day I went for acupuncture and as I was resting in a chair, needles poking out of me, I thought how different Chinese medicine is, especially when it comes to acupuncture. After the acupuncturist puts in the needles, she says to me: "have a good rest" and I nap or doze for about 45 minutes. And it occurred to me, rest IS healing. And maybe learning about other cultures doesn't only teach us cursory things about how people live or work, but can also teach us how to heal.

I'm not healed by any stretch of imagination. I still have 3-4 headaches or migraines a week, which often result in staying in bed more than I'd like. But I'm learning that if I let go and trust the ways in which people heal from multiple cultures, healing does come.

And grace. By giving myself grace walk through this journey instead of fighting the pain, I can use it as a learning experience. A chance to learn about other cultures, other healing practices, and about myself.

I hope someday I don't have to deal with regular pain. But in the meantime I am trying as hard as possible to see the bright side -- that I have much to learn about other cultures and the ways they view healing and the body.

1 comment:

  1. I was looking at your list of healing your pain and I think I have tried them all. While the medicine did work, it often left me lazy and tired all the time. It wasn't until I tried yoga and meditation that my life turned around. I feel 20 years younger and my chronic pain is a thing of the past.