The Pain Equation

When I had fibromyalgia, my family and friends did their best to understand how I felt, and what my body was feeling. It was difficult for them, and not their fault their efforts to do this fell short.

It’s hard to imagine chronic pain if you’ve never experienced long pain.  When I say long, I don’t mean days or even weeks.  I mean at least one year of it, and I mean pain that gets in your way.

I’d always been a math kid, and even as an adult I understood best when I could turn something into a kind of equation.  The equation didn’t have to be numbers.  Words worked too.

I decided to invent a pain equation for fibromyalgia.

Fibro affects muscles, and every kind of muscle is vulnerable to this illness. This meant I needed to know how many muscles are in the human body.  Turns out, that’s a debatable point.  It depends on how you define muscle.  I decided to go with 700, since that is roughly the number of named muscles. 

There are also uncounted, un-named muscles in the body, but if I added those into the equation, the numbers moved beyond something imaginable.  I wanted to stick with numbers someone else could imagine into an experience.

Everyone who has experienced pain knows it’s not so much about the physical sensation as it is about time.  Pain is about how long will this pain last and can I outlast it.  Pain is about endurance.  Therefore the equation I was building needed to include time.

Fibro pain is always present, and the pain is always everywhere in every muscle, the named and the anonymous.  24/7, as my son Bryan would say.  Bryan understands pain; he is disabled because of chronic pain, the end result of an accident.  He likes the idea of a pain equation.  Pain is concrete to the person enduring it, but not always understood by someone outside of it.  An equation is both concrete and graspable, possible for someone else to understand and imagine beyond.

So, here is the pain equation, configured to be an aid to understanding for someone who has never experienced chronic pain.

700 muscles, multiplied by 24 hours, multiplied by 365 days in a year.

Six million, one hundred thirty-two thousand hours of pain endured during one year of life.

Overwhelmingly imaginable.