Friday, May 6, 2016

The Selfishness of Pain

[Just a note about today. The blog is later than I would like and the pattern isn't even started. I have spent most of my day learning (again) how annoying and expensive my cognitive problems can be. That will be next week's post. I also learned that sheep are not the best hat and mitten models. See below.]


 Arthritic Prayer

Teach me,  Lord, the purpose of my pain.

Please pardon that I kneel here to complain
instead of praise Thee. Help me understand
how twisted fingers fit within thy grand
plan of happiness. Also explain
how I can serve thee better at a crawl.

What good my pain, the agony of all
thy aching children, who—broken—remain
willing in spirit.  Is this for our gain?
Then why does suffering spur selfishness?

I fear that years of agony will drain
worn spirit, sour or twist my soul, unless,

Thou grant me daily strength to rise again
and help me see some purpose in this pain. 

Pain is a selfish feeling.

In saying this, I have to acknowledge that there are many people, some of whom I’ve known personally, who seem to grow closer to God while dying painful deaths. I often wonder how they can grow holy through suffering while I become bitter. Sometimes I blame my shady soul. Other times I attribute their success to the overwhelming emotions that must come with accepting mortality. I also wonder if people who are dying have access to better pain control medications than I do.

For whatever reason, when I am in pain, it is hard to care about others’ suffering or successes. All that matters, really, is getting the pain to stop. 

I am not alone. I can justify my selfishness with  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The theory is that basic needs must be met before we can move up to higher levels of thought and caring. The lowest level is basic survival, physiological needs—food, sleep, air, water. Pain is primal. It is a signal from the brain that something is wrong, that survival is threatened. 

I can live well enough with what I consider the “background noise” of my usual pain, but as soon as it increases, even a little bit, I feel more like an animal than a person. Fibromyalgia causes a hot, sharp kind of pain that makes me pace, scratch myself until I bleed, and wish that I could gnaw off one of my feet to get out of the trap. Rheumatoid arthritis throbs with a  cold, dull pain that inspires an instinct to crawl under the porch or out into the woods and die. At these not uncommon levels of pain, everything outside of myself is blurry and distant, even though I know that my pain is a false alarm. The quiet voice of remaining logic whispers that I should worry about my children’s grades, my family’s laundry, next week’s lesson plans. But it cannot happen until the pain is diminished enough for me to see beyond my own survival instincts. 

Rest and drugs are the only things that bring me out of the entirely self-centered levels of pain. However, in my regular state, knitting can help me stay human and satisfy my higher-level needs, like love and personal worth. Even when I’m stuck in bed, I can create something original, beautiful, and useful. In Knit for Health and Wellness, Betsan Corkhill encourages the disabled and elderly to knit items as gifts or for charity. This helps them (us) to remain connected to the outside world and to continue to feel worthwhile.


Baby gifts are easy and satisfying creations. They are generally small, which makes them easy to finish and hard to get sick of. Babies don’t dress themselves, so the variety of colors and shapes is greater than for people who can choose what to wear. I always try to have a few knitted baby gifts on hand.

I call this week’s knitting a “Little Less Selfish Baby Hat and Mitts.”  It is a very easy pattern that can be knit during the worst of times. 

There are several things to consider when knitting for babies. The first is color. The pink and baby blue stereotypes have yet to be overcome, so I tend to avoid both colors. I choose something gender-neutral like orange, green, royal purple, or black and white. 

Size can be tricky. When giving something warm, you want it to fit the fast-growing new person during a cold season. That is why hats, mittens, and blankets are all nice. The hats I have made are stretchy and have a brim that can be rolled up for premies or left unrolled for a young toddler. The mittens will be big, and therefore big enough, long enough for the baby to grow into mittens with separate thumb spaces. With this flexibility, the gift will work no matter what time of year the baby is born. 

Fiber types are also important. In this knit, I have created items for two kinds of mothers. The red and blue hat is knitted for a mom who will appreciate that the wool is a locally-sourced, renewable resource that has been processed and dyed in the most environmentally friendly way possible ( again from my friends at Mountain Meadow Mill). She will be willing to hand-wash these items (or make the nanny do so) and willing to pay a higher price ($25). If this mom is a vegan, ask your local yarn shop owner (mine is Vera at The Unravelled Sheep) about  yarns made from cotton, flax, or hemp.

I don’t think I’ve met this mom. Most new mothers are too stressed and exhausted to follow careful laundry instructions, so the other two hats are made from soft synthetics that will survive frequent trips through the washer and dryer ($15). All three hat and mitten sets will be on sale at my shop.


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