Writing is all about empathy. It’s about putting yourself in a character’s shoes and doing your best to understand their perspective on life. Sometimes your characters have a lot in common with you, so it’s relatively easy to step into their head. Sometimes they don’t, and it isn’t. When it comes to the latter, research is your best friend.
If you’re here, you’re probably researching how to write a character with chronic pain. Or you’re my mum (hi mum!). So, welcome! I’m here to tell you a bit about what it’s like to be in pain 99.9% of one’s time. Because I have first-hand experience in this arena and boy HOWDY do some writers get it very, very wrong.
Friday, 400mg of Ketamine
I write this from a 400mg Ketamine/early morning haze. It’s 6am, which is only a time I’m functional at right now because hospitals are some warped otherworld in which apparently 5am is a thing that exists.
I’ve been stuck four times in my belly with a needle over the last five days, and it’s certainly feeling it.
How is everyone? I’m high!
For those not religiously stalking my online presence (and why NOT?), you might not know I’m around twenty-four hours into a five-day stint in hospital. While here I’m being stuck, prodded, and infused full of drugs to help deal with my ever-reliable buddy ol’ pal ol’ mate, chronic pain.
This involves a few fun procedures but the one I want to talk about today is the Ketamine infusion. Because those are the medicinal waves I’m riding right now, my dudes.
This time last year I had to leave a job I loved because I was too sick to work. I’ve since had two surgeries, cultivated an essential but bank-draining team of medical specialists, and developed a truly spectacular tolerance to painkillers.
For me, Endometriosis has been a nuclear bomb dropped on my life.
Scientifically speaking: Endometriosis is a condition that occurs when the inner lining of the uterus (the endometrium) decides it’s a strong independent tissue that don’t need no uterus. Instead it grows…well, wherever it damn well pleases. Generally endometrium growths stick to your abdominal cavity — setting up shop on your uterus, ovaries, bowel, bladder etc etc — but there have been cases of growths being found in other areas of the body (like the nasal cavity, what the fuck?).
In severe cases, endometriosis growths can adhere your organs to your abdominal walls, or each other. Think Shelob’s cave from Lord of the Rings.
Oh but wait, there’s more.
When I was little I would frequently return home from visiting my father with raging ear infections. I was a water baby, practically living in his pool on school holidays which served the dual purpose of a) giving me the infections in the first place and b) distracting me sufficiently from the pain that my head was about falling off by the time I raised enough of an issue to make it to the doctor. My mother learned early that when I offhandedly mentioned something hurt, only to be distracted by a game of tag five minutes later, that that didn’t mean the pain wasn’t serious. I just had a knack for ignoring my body’s klaxons, right up until either the distractions ran out, or an emergency room visit was in order.
It’s something I never grew out of. Which is probably for the best because two decades later I was diagnosed with endometriosis.