There are a great many people in this country who are not living the dream.
Excluding the litany of mental health and wellness issues that have surged during COVID, there is a large base of people experiencing frequent physical discomfort.
According to Statistics Canada, about six million people suffer from some sort of chronic pain. That's almost one in five people.* I'm one of them. My situation is nowhere near as bad as what I can now imagine burn victims deal with, or people with rheumatoid arthritis (or polymyalgia rheumatica like my mom has), or cancer patients suffering the indignance of chemo. And while for me it's a terrible assault on my quality of life, I now have much more empathy for this corner of the world's experience .
My case is also very different from the odyssey of "Mike Conner vs. The Pain". Mike is an engineer who fell five stories through the scaffolding in a church he was inspecting. He landed on his feet, shattering 108 bones. I felt like an asshole complaining about my afflixion while reading his inspirational and heroic survival story**.
We all experience the vast spectrum of the human condition to varying degrees. Some experience it more intensely than others. On one side, there is the joy of family, the thrill of achievement, the simple pleasures of being outside–the sand between our toes and an off-shore breeze acccompanying the slow slip of a hazy sun towards the horizon. In the fat middle is the flat-line of endless marches through tedious days of habit and routine that, while notionally safe and secure and stable (if we are lucky), offer little in the way of interesting peaks and valleys. And lastly there is the savage cruelty of the pain.
Mine started with the pandemic. I'm an aging athlete and I've spent the bulk of my life largely free of it. I'd always been waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop. I guess this is it. I never knew how good I had it. Mine is an apparently simple pattern: neck tension that builds in intensity until it goes into spasm and causes a nauseating migraine. The whole process takes about 36 hours to abate once triggered. It's been increasing in frequency and ferocity over the last three years until I am often out of commission a day per week.
All signficant change occurs at a threshold.
This is the nexus between what was and what is becoming–and where the pain points are. My pattern, and it is a cyclical pattern, is what a complexity theorist might call an emergent behavior. It is not the simple cause-and-effect result of an injury, accident or illness, but something more intractable and pernicious. This complex behavior emerges when a system crosses some threshold–as the delicate interplay between a small number of often subtle and inobvious factors, objects or properties.
None of my factors seem suffcient on their own to casuse spasms, but they all contribute to my net inflammation level. When I go past a certain inflexion point, I manifest the pattern. (In my case these factors include the postural issues of working at a desk on zoom calls all day, potential side-effects of the COVID vaccine or the virus itself, an imbalance in my bite causing a TMJ disorder, sudden changes in atmospheric pressure, some arthritis and chronic misalignments in my upper cervical spine, sugar addiction and sleep apnea induced hypoxia).
We all have an inflammation threshold, above which nasty shit can happen.
Breaches of this threshold express themselves in ways as varied as each of us is unique. Chronic pain and inflammation are not just concepts that apply to our physical bodies. Pain has mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions. And the corporeal body has its analog in the corporate where the growing pains of building and running a business offer participants continual invitations to feel stress and strain.
We are all in the midst of very difficult times. It would be easy to blame our stresses and strains on COVID, interest and inflation rate spikes, supply change interruptions, the tighening of the capital markets and Justin Trudeau (even thought that last one is fun sometimes). These are external factors but only part of a larger system that includes our genetic health tendencies, relationships with family and friends and what we choose to do to recreate, serve the community and enhance our mindfulness and wellbeing through meditation, prayer, journalling, exercize, a good diet and regular trips to the spa.
What are you willing to do to lower your net stress level?
If you are suffering, think about how you might get under your inflammation threshold by starting certain things and ending others. Even one shift could make a significant difference in how you feel. How might you change your work routine or personal routine to remove or reframe certain stress triggers. Pain is in someways an evolutionary gift–an invitation to change something.
If we are lucky we avoid the acute pain of a serious accident, injury or illness, at least until the bitter end. Hopefully that end will be a sweet product of doing our personal work, as the dulcet tones of a life well-lived come to a peaceful end.