Monday, January 18, 2016

An Introduction to (my) Chronic Pain

Imagine, if you will, that everyone is given a certain amount of energy and dexterity per day in tangible form, say a gallon jug full of water.  Each task for the day requires, say, a half a teaspoon of water.  That gallon of water is sufficient for them to comfortably complete all their daily tasks and still have plenty left over.

There are outliers, of course: people who brim over with energy, like their gallon jug is secretly hooked up to a faucet (or a fire hose).  On the other end are people whose gallon jugs are only filled half full or those whose jugs are broken and have been replaced with a tiny cup.  With a crack in the bottom.

People like that don't have enough energy to complete their daily tasks.  Each task that's half a teaspoon for the average person is a tablespoon or more for these people.  For instance, say you're cooking a stir fry full of healthy vegetables.  If you're the average person, this task requires maybe a teaspoon of water at most.  For me, each stir of the ingredients around the pan is a teaspoon.  Just cooking a stir fry, say 50 stirs, is more water than my whole cup contains and takes up all the next day's share.

The thing about cracks in crockery cups is that stress widens them.  If you just display a cracked and mended cup, it's fine, but if you try to use it (and the glue doesn't poison you), the crack will reassert itself and widen with every clumsy, rough handling.  As the cracks widen and split, more and more water leaks out before it can be used, and most of daily life is lived by trying to collect the dampness left on the bottom of the cup after the water has been used or leaked away.

Another thing about cracks it hat they compromise the structural integrity of the whole.  When I hurt my left arm all those years ago and then had to work at a crappy retail job to get through my master's degree to become employable despite my crippledness, I had to overuse my right arm to compensate, and other things got damaged due to compensation, as well.  My immune and nervous systems eventually got overwhelmed and the cracks spidered everywhere until sometimes I felt more like a sieve than a cup.  Now if you put pressure on a crack, you have no idea what will happen to the others.  Now, when simple tasks like cutting or chopping food take inordinate amounts of dexterity and energy away.  The average person sees an easy 30 minutes of work.  Sleep deprived, foggy-brained, and in pain, I see 452 mouse clicks, each more difficult and slower than the last, each growing less precise and requiring additional, corrective clicks.  Depending on how bad things are that day, I'm looking at 3-4 hours of work.  

As more pressure is applied, other cracks start to shift, and, out of nowhere, it feels like someone is stabbing me in the left foot I smashed years ago with a cart because I couldn't pull it with both hands, and I can't even remain upright in my chair for the agony.  Or suddenly, it feels like someone is tightening a vise around my left upper arm and the bruising pain takes my breath away.

Needless to say, I've had to develop a lot of shortcuts and efficiencies to cope with my deficiencies and still get something done despite my reduced capacity to function.  One of the ways I compensate is by trying to plan, organize, and prototype things in ways that require less use of my hands.  Any time that process bogs down, especially on a tight deadline, I'm in trouble because, the truth is, I can't guarantee that I will have enough use of my hands to get things done without causing my health to spiral out of control for weeks or months, and I CAN guarantee that it will not be done to my satisfaction / liking /standards.

Nobody likes to have their face rubbed in their insufficiencies all the time, but that's what happens when planning breaks down and iterations are needed to correct and rework while a too-late-chosen, artificial deadline looms, causing more stress, widening the old cracks and creating new ones, leeching away more of the limited energy and dexterity I have and making life outside of work a constant brain fogged exhaustion of mornings of days I can't even hold silverware  and an agony of pain-filled nights with less and less sleep , resulting in less and less time for the tiny, cracked cup to refill, less energy for the next day and less resilience to deal diplomatically or graciously with all the needless changes and decisions and rework.

If I occasionally come across as a little unhinged, become even more incoherent, seem to be falling apart at all the cracks, I hope you have  a better understanding of why and maybe will work with me more in the early planning phases next time because you don't want to be the one tapping at the cracks with a hammer until I am useless to you.

Sorry if the cracks in their jagged visibility scare you.  Believe me: they scare me.  My cup may be small and cracked beyond repair, but it's mine, and I like to use it for things I enjoy sometimes, and it's the only one I have, so I have to try to protect it in my clumsy, sometimes incoherent way, and I am not good at protecting it because I remember when I had that gallon jug and it ran over, and I could do so many things I can't do now.  I rage at being so fragile, but I hate trying to run entirely on empty, too, and being desert-day parched all the time, gritty with sand, burned away by wind, and barely hanging on while I wait for it all to shatter completely.  I hate doing poor work, but I have all these limits now, and I can't do any excellent work when everyone is tugging at the cracks without knowing they are.

Now you know.  They say knowing is half the battle.  I hope you understand a little better what kind of a toll certain collaborative behaviors take on me and why I seem unable to cope with them sometimes.  I'm sorry you have to deal with it  (I'm sorry I have to deal with it, believe me), but we're all in this team / community thing together, and the more we know about our teammates, the better our outcomes can be.

Thanks for reading.  Let me know if you have any questions.