POSTCARD #159: Bangkok/New Delhi flight: My frequent flyer card gets me an upgrade thus I carry my pain with mindfulness and step behind the curtain folds where the grass is always greener. Glasses of champage on silvered trays among the apple juices and orange juices – I don’t indulge, impossible, these days of heavy-duty neural pain killers. Look out at the sky, strange flesh-coloured clouds above a dark horizon I don’t recognize. It could be a different planet. Sounds so shrill and pointy-ended I have to wear earplugs squashed into the contours of the auditory passage and pressed in by fingertips. Members of the public seem alien, sentient beings but complex individuals; somehow I can’t identify with them; I just never noticed how weird things were before…
There was the transformation, something else existed before I found I was in a low gravity world, a pharmaceutical weightlessness that allows me from time to time to contemplate the intrusive pain growing inside me like a tree, branches and twiglets with buds opening; it’s there but I can’t feel it – there was a time when I didn’t have this condition… hard to believe. Sensory impingement, even through dark glasses, light hurts as the last of the sun’s rays enter cabin windows, sweep around the interior in the steep ascent of the aircraft and the course setting for Northwest.
Every day and each circumstance is an opportunity for acceptance. A child is crying, front-left. I’m in an aisle seat, the sound piercing through insulation of the meds like a medical probe penetrating internal organs, deeper and deeper. I try tilting my head in small increments to alter the directional frequency of received sound but it’s not working – inconsolable. Fighting against it creates a narrative, “resistance is futile, you will be assimilated,” trying to open to the experience, extending, retracting… then the hum of the aircraft engine sends the child to sleep.
Dinner served and earplugs removed, I’m watching my video (Tomorrowland), good quality earphones and about three of a total four hours flying time remaining – then it happens. In the glimmer of video screens and forever trays of drinks offered by slim shadows of airline staff, a fairly large group of people block the passageway on my left. They’re flying together, look like the same family, all are tall have large physiques, bearded men, women wide at the bottom end, and they’re ordering items from duty-free with handfuls of US currency sprouting like leaves on a tree with many limbs. They can’t count out the amounts correctly because it’s too dark. I feel my irritation flare up in all the disorder and stewardesses’ strobe-like torch flashings. Then a mistake in the change, or something goes wrong, so all the items that were purchased and placed in overhead lockers have to be taken out and checked again.
I’m holding an unbelievable pain/stress crisis from exploding. The squeezing-past-each-other in crowded aisle means I get pushed by large rear-ends of women in custom-made denim jeans who feel they’re small and invisible. Then the little girl starts to cry again and I see the cute child, mouth a round black hole, arms and legs extended, a miniature version of the FAT PEOPLE who are her immediate family. The wail of distress breaks the sound barrier; child is carried up and down the aisle by different uncles, aunties, then a very harrassed mommy, upper body kinda jogging up and down the aisle gets the child to sleep. Every time mommy turns around I receive a buttock shove in the head. The silent pressure that’s inside my head, asylum-straight-jacketed, cannot be contained anymore… it goes, restraints bursts wide open, and the relief is huge… large outbreath. How did I do that? Time stretches out of shape, vertigo, where are we now? Good question, flying at 600 mph. Pressure returns, I attempt to recreate the scene and do it again – the mind forgets, it goes on and things settle down towards the end. We arrive in Delhi, nice landing and a few minutes early.
‘Surrender is the most difficult thing in the world while you are doing it and the easiest when it is done.’ [Bhai Sahib]
If sounds aggravate your pain maybe an MP3 player and a proper set of headphones (i.e. not earbuds) would be a good investment. It’s probably easier to surrender to music you love than to the crying of a child you can’t help.
You seem to be getting closer to the place where nerve signals become pain. Where brain meets mind. Perhaps if you try to see it as a training regimen. No pain, no gain. Hmm. Maybe not. When my swimming coach used to say that I was prone to wishing him a world of gain.
I’ve started listening to music more, youtube tracks playing as I sit at the desk. I find the high register tinkling piano sounds very easing. There’s something about birdsong and high frequency sounds I read about in this context.
‘Where brain meets mind’, a good way of putting it. This thing about acceptance rather than resistance and there’s the no-choice factor when you’re pushed to the limit of endurance, step into the pain because there’s no other place to go… that’s the way the no-pain-no-gain thing works for me.
You know, I sometimes think that’s a path to enlightenment. Or satori at least. When there’s nowhere to go you finally go nowhere. The escape route from dukkha is right through it. The Middle Way?
It fits, yes, something like that. Of course there’s the extreme duress; the endurance level tipping point, and you’d have to be some kind of high-level athlete of the mind to find your way through there by choice…
That sounds really stressful. And you released it with just an outbreath? Wow!
I hope the pain will ease.
Thanks Karin, it was an outbreath that felt like a swoon… I’ve had it once since then, during a shopping mall trip. Eventually I’ll have to stop all this constant travelling.
Oh, like a swoon. At first, I thought it would be nice if you could bottle up this solution of surrender and sell it. But now, I think it won’t sell if it feels like a swoon.
The whole experience sounds like a shamanic initiation torture.
Right, I’m not in it for the money. Shamanic torture is nearer it – time seemed to stand still – the painkiller med, neurontin, is strange stuff…
Sure is. They still don’t fully understand how or why it works either (which is alarmingly common for mild-altering meds).
Its primary use is as an anticonvulsant and the theory is that it increases both the production of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and the sensitivity of some receptor sites to it. As a consequence it inhibits the release of certain neurotransmitters, thus slowing some of the communication pathways in the brain and reducing the risk of fits (that’s why withdrawing too suddenly can cause fits).
Its pain reduction mechanism is much less clear. It’s not chemically similar to other analgesics or painkillers and so how/why/if it works is largely speculative.
I’ve never taken it, but from your descriptions I’d guess it doesn’t really reduce pain at all, but rather alters consciousness in a way that some people can use to better deal with the pain. But I’m just modeling that on my own use of cannabis for pain management. You’re the real expert here. I bet you know heaps more about it than the researchers do. At least in the ways that count. Remember that when you discuss it with medicos or know-nothing dilettantes like me.
The anticonvulant side of it is pretty scary – but the whole thing is pretty scary when I focus on what’s happening in the here and now. There’s a cotton-wool-padding effect and the pain is still there like a wild party going on next door and you can feel the vibration of it through the wall. Sometimes it comes into awareness as an actual pain, last thing at night sometimes. Then I’ve got something else to help me sleep. From what I remember of cannabis there’s not the same enhanced effect, more like a dulled zombie effect; there’s a curious thing about the perception of time. I haven’t yet figured out if these ‘shamanic torture’ episodes mentioned above actually last a very long time or they just seem to. No fun aspect to it, the fact that the pain is not there is liberating.
That’s a mark of a true shamanic torture episode I reckon. Heaven and hell are both eternal. Yet you can fit an infinity of them into an instant.
It also seemed to take forever at the immigration queue that night. I suppose I could have used the stopwatch on my phone. Have to see how it goes, early days yet…
When I’m psychotic time does things that would leave Einstein aghast.
Once an episode came on while I was in a huge shopping mall (i.e. hell). Somehow, despite the deliberately disorienting floorplan, I found the exit ramp and started walking down. And down. And down. Forever. If I’d come upon a sign reading “Abandon hope all ye who enter here” I wouldn’t have been the least surprised.
I’ve been similarly trapped, even before the onset of this condition. The mall is a place that’s designed to become lost in… enter at your own peril. If you don’t have psychosis the shopping experience could trigger one. I have a friend who has this compulsion is it OCD? Maybe the samsara of shopping. We went with her on one purchasing spree, saw her animated discussions with the sales assistants like they were old friends, buying handfuls of expensives neckties for her husbands and sons, asking me constantly which is better, ‘what do you think?’ It’s the conundrum of ‘choice’. We left her there and she was sick next day, didn’t come to the office.
I usually avoid malls like the plague too. I’ve never enjoyed shopping – even for things I like – and the whole manipulative culture of sales and marketing leaves me cold. But I don’t think it was the mall that triggered my psychosis. I’d felt it coming for days and would normally have stayed at home to ride it out but this time a weekend tooth abscess landed me at an emergency dentists and the mall was the only practical place to fill the antibiotics script. I was hoping to be able to hold it together until I got home but no dice.
I have the same feeling about Malls, moribund… the walking dead. I sympathise with the predicament, being caught in unprepared circumstances, the way out so near yet so far…
Sorry to laugh Tiramit. So relate to this!
Yes, I know it’s bizarre and hilarious…
I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve been hit with luggage and withs butts in aisle seat…
The consequence of selecting an aisle seat because it’s less claustrophobic and easier to get to the toilet…
Oh Tiramit. This is all so very familiar, every detail, including the pain. I have no smart solution. You know the only Refuge as well as I do. I meet you, and hold you there.
Thanks miriam. This is it, just the very ordinary things – they have a presence that creates their own time. I need to learn how to cope with extreme events or know to not go there…
I think we all know this feeling of being stretched to the limit. It is bizarre how these situations find us sometimes– like being ill and stretched to the point of exhaustion, and being caught in a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam because of an accident somewhere ahead. You reach your limit. Ready to snap… I’m glad you had a moment of release. And I’m glad you keep such a balanced view of your pain and circumstances. That is a very admirable quality, Tiramit…
Did you like Tomorrowland?
The breaking point seems like it wasn’t so difficult once reached, but at the time you’re in an agony of sorts. Thanks for your analogy of road rage, it’s like that, no different, no matter the intensity – almost as if we humans are programmed to function within the same parameters regardless. Tomorrowland was just coming to the midpoint when my crisis was gathering momentum and those people in the aisle with their handfuls of dollars strayed into the movie, and the beautiful English girl, who was not ‘real’ (spoiler alert) sat with me, held my hand and seemed to know the whole thing from start to finish and the same backwards. This was very reassuring at the time. Yes a good story, I’ll have to watch it again sometime. Thanks for dropping in…
Painfully ridiculous … and beautifully captured T.
May you find relief 💛
An opportunity to see how the pressure of holding works and anger is activated. It’s a learning process in these new conditions.
Thanks Val, good to have you visit
You really need to take care of your pain and I can sense your discomfort for living with it for sometime now.
Thanks Manish, the whole thing about the condition is the subject of my investigation and contemplation. I’ll see the neurologist here in India and have a plan to see my old doctor in Switzerland. At the moment I’m swallowing pills and mostly keeping the pain away…
Glad to know that at least the pills are keeping the pain suppressed. Hopefully the neurologist can provide you further insight into how to resolve this problem.
Yes it’s ok, already increasing dosage though and we’re talking about minimum two years. I’m going to see a homeopathic doctor in Sir Ganga Ram Hosp here in Delhi. Have to find an alternative to these heavy pharmaceuticals…