Pain Chronicles

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I am continually amazed me how so many people will dismiss the pain of others because they can not comprehend it.

Growing up, somewhere on Star Trek, I saw a full-body medical scan device and thought how great it would be to have that handy. I knew early on that my pain was not normal. Attributed to “growing pains” or “looking for attention,” I became quiet and stopped telling anyone about the pain. Complaining seemed so futile when the pain judged to be insignificant or non-existing by everyone.

What I now know is that pain is subjective. I live with pain every day, all-day. What has become tolerable for me might send someone else to the ER thinking this was the end of it all. We can never know what others are feeling, and this is true for physical and emotional pain. But what we can know is that it can change our brains. Living with untreated pain for a prolonged period can cause changes in the brain and spinal cord that increases the level of pain.

If that wasn’t bad enough, seriously, it gets worse – pain also affects serotonin. Pain decreases the amount of available serotonin, which weakens the ability to modulate pain. The inability to effectively modulate pain increases the pain, and as a result, it can cause mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. We are beginning to understand that for people with chronic pain, mental illness isn’t an emotional response to physical pain, it is a consequence of the pain.

Scans revealed that chronic pain had dramatically reduced the gray matter of the patients’ brains. —
While normal aging causes gray matter to atrophy by half a percent a year, the gray matter of chronic pain patients showed losses amounting to between 5 and 11 percent, the equivalent often to twenty years of aging.
– “Pain Chronicles” by Melanie Thernstrom

So, yeah, chronic pain also affects cognition—the stuff of nightmares.

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