Life After Pain

Photo by Riyan Nugraha from Pexels

Ge Gao’s beautiful essay at The Threepenny Review explores life after pain: chronic, inexplicable arm pain that rendered her right arm useless:

I did not jump off the Williamsburg Bridge or drown myself in the East River when I took my evening walks along the river parks in lower Manhattan. Every morning I woke up, flipped my body to the left side, and stretched the right arm long and hard, with a childish hope that the pain would suddenly ebb, just as it had arrived in my body, without any warning. Quickly, disappointment became a daily dose I had to swallow. Then anger. Then depression. Pain camped somewhere inside of my muscle, nerves, or bones and decided to take an extensive lavish vacation there. In order to sustain my daily life, I realized, I had to endure the pain the way other people manage their grief. You bargain, you retreat, you accept.

But it’s not just about coping with pain, because this is her right arm, her dominant arm — it’s also about the loss of all the potential that her right arm represents.

I had just turned twenty-seven years old. I had just run away from a disturbing relationship. But I still wanted things. Aristotle continues the discussion of a soul by pointing out that “within the soul the faculties of knowledge and sensation are potentially these objects, the one what is knowable, the other what is sensible.”

His words explained why my disability of a hand crushed me more than anything. My right hand was the tool for sensations, as well as for recording and clarifying thoughts. The cruelty of not being able to use my right hand was not just about the pain, but the trap of the pain. No release; no writing about it and shaping it into an episode for something larger or sadder than pain itself.

A hand, I concluded, was the soul.

She excavates her pain with a clear-eyed frankness that is itself a bit painful in its sharpness, and the result is a gripping read.

Read the essay