The Similarity Vs The Difference

Dear Audy,

Something very strange is happening. My CRPS symptoms are kind of flaring off the charts, but that’s not the strange part. The odd thing, the part that doesn’t fit, is that I really don’t seem to have an emotional attachment to today’s pain. I’m cool with it. It is what it is. Today’s pain. Not yesterday’s pain, not tomorrow’s pain, not this evening’s pain, just the pain of this day in this moment.

And I’m going to be OK.

I sat down to write a book review today, but my thoughts wouldn’t fit together. There are plenty of ideas floating around in my mind, it’s just that there are also plenty of misfiring nervous system patterns polluting my brain. I need my brain to run my mind and I’m having trouble connecting through all the white noise.

I didn’t want to give up on writing though, so here I am, chatting to a Word document and curious to see what I have to say.


Sometimes, a disruption to thought processes can be a good thing. It allows us to look at things differently. Our brains simply make up most of what we perceive. It creates an illusion of continuity in our lives by remembering patterns from what our senses sense and using these to create perceptions from current sensations.

In a way, our brains are lazy. They search for similarities that allow us to recognise objects, situations, people, etc., that we have come in contact with before. This is a pretty nifty survival tactic in the case that any of those things happens to be dangerous, or if we need to free up our awareness to notice other dangerous things.

This is less of a nifty thing once we stop to consider that a similarity is not a reproduction. What differences do we miss in the sameness? How could they be important?

Is the pain that I’m feeling today the same pain that I always feel thanks to CRPS? Well, it’s definitely very similar, I’ll give it that, but no. It’s not the same pain.

There are plenty of differences that become apparent once I start to look for them. Today’s pain is being perceived on 16th August, 2012. I am 29 years old. I have spent almost 6 years living with CRPS and the colourful array of symptoms that it displays. I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve aged. I’ve changed. I’ve eaten different foods, done different amounts of exercise, moved to different homes, tried different therapies, connected with different people.

I am not the same as the 25-year-old me with chronic pain, nor the 27-year-old me with chronic pain. Would it really make sense to say that I am experiencing the same pain, when we know that pain is a perception and perceptions are created in the brain? How can a different brain experience the same pain?

What other differences are there?

I am psychologically better equipped to deal with pain than younger version of myself. I have a stronger understanding of the connection between my mind and body than she did. I recognise that my beliefs influence my thoughts influence my behaviour influence my emotion influence my thoughts influence my beliefs influence my experience.

These points of difference, these little details, make today’s pain different from any other pain. A different pain is a different monster. A monster that isn’t as strong as one that could imprison me in its claws for years on end. The differences are its weaknesses and can be exploited simply through observation.

I see the cracks in its skin and that gives me strength. In all of their skin..the monsters…the little gremlins who have been messing about with my wiring. When I think of CRPS as multiple monsters, they appear in my mind as much much smaller then when picture CRPS as a singular beast. Weird? Perhaps. Useful? Absolutely.

I’d rather fight off an army of ants than Godzilla.

It’s common to think of chronic pain, chronic anxiety, or chronic depression as things that grab ahold of us and let us go with random repetition. But what if we think of each instance of these as being a separate thing? Each occurrence a new thing that we encounter as we journey through our lives. What if we greeted flares with curiosity and interest, rather than frustration and anger? What differences would we find?

“The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements expect me to fit them.” – George Bernard Shaw

(featured quote from Counterclockwise by Ellen J Langer, which I still hope to review when my cogs start turning again)

I am going to be my own tailor. I’m going to take fresh measurements before I fashion action plans. I’m going to look for the differences so that I am not blinded by the similarities. In words that pop culture might understand: I’m going to check myself before I wreck myself.

By doing so, I hope to find myself less easily upset by painful flares and physical setbacks. Less upset gives me more headspace to actually work on what I can in order to improve my situation, even if that just means finding a better perspective whilst I wait out the flaring. An inquisitive mind has a much better chance at influencing a reduction in chronic pain than a defeated one. Who says healing isn’t a logical process?

Love & Observation,

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  • One thought on “The Similarity Vs The Difference

    1. Ross

      Well written post Caf! I’m glad your perception of the pain has changed. In a lot of ways it’s like mine. The flares are intense however I have the attitude of everything is fine and that I’m going to be all right.It sounds like you’ve been experiencing some good changes and I’m really happy for you!

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