Pain Language


What would a pain language look like? Sound like? Written, I imagine on the body and the sheets, clothes and pillows, shit and blood. Projected like movies.A stuttering, irritated series of marks with an almost rhythm (always almost). For neuropathy it would be written on shoes and socks, gloves, the steering wheel, keyboard. Charred and raised red, engraved in boiling marks, for the sizzling sound that should be there. Like bare electrical wires hissing as they buzz and threaten out of sync.

The aching would be the terrible drone of wailing mourners, the white hot broken place that’s cool to the touch. The written words would loop and loop, letters  and symbols heavy, scribbled on top of each other, an indecipherable, weighty pile of muttering, whimpering pleasestoppleasestop.

The headaches a series of spikes and blades for letters, curved deep and deeper into the skin, the eyes, forehead, scalp. Too obvious? Fuck you. It’s always too obvious to me.

Migraine a scratched out, scribbled mass that throbs with the beat of another cruel heart. Laser-etched permanently in pulsing grooves carved in places that only the migraine can uncover again and again. Migraine grammar twists tighter and tighter until nothing escapes the knot, not even meaning.

Pain Economy


Bodies & Value


Accepting my chronic illness isn’t some inspirational meme shit. It means knowing and accepting that a lot of my time is not going to be ‘productive’ or ‘valuable.’ That my body is not the kind of body valued and consumed by our culture anymore.

It’s letting go of everything you thought meant something about your ‘self.’ And  it’s fucking terrifying because what are you if you have no value in a hierarchical system that judges you and categorizes you based on how valuable you are (how well your body fits in the beauty and health system, what kind of work you do for others to profit from, etc.)? You have to figure that out. You’re in the real frontier. Be careful you don’t just appropriate someone else’s land, struggle, oppression. Find your own way, your own place somewhere beyond ‘value.’ Value is just a convenient way of converting you, your body, your work into $ for someone else to take. We don’t even know how to talk about the things we do, the bodies we do them with, without using that term or something related.

People read Marx and think of factory work, of profit off of that labor. But it’s about profit off of every aspect of our lives. Every move we make with these bodies or don’t make is money for someone else. You think you own your body until you’re ill, then you begin to understand that it was never yours and maybe you can do something about that by not doing anything with this body that refuses. This body that is simultaneously worthless and invaluable.

The Pain Economy



Pain Economy

We no longer make products/things at work; we make pain. (Maybe we have always made nothing but pain. For ourselves and others. In hours of sitting or standing in crippling positions, in mind-numbing (literally) boredom, and forced cheer.) We produce pain and they, the pain capitalists, profit from painkillers we produce and consume by limiting access to them/creating scarcity. They limit our access to pain free space and pleasure events while forcing us to reproduce pain. Narcotics, alcohol, prescription opiates, religion, heroin are some of the only paths out of pain space and into some place like pleasure. We live in a pain economy where we make pain all day long then pay to have it, if not removed, (never actually killed) then distanced, delayed. Pain is demonized, minimized, then normalized. Medicalized so that we can be told we are drug-seeking when we seek the condoned, licensed, capitalist-approved paths to pain-free space. But we need to be diagnosed so we hope to make our pain visible, to make our pain (the pain that now exceeds what capitalists can extract via work) worth something so that we can pay to enter the mythical pain-free space via painkillers/money. We exchange our lives and hours for pain hoping to redeem it for painlessness or maybe just pleasure which is never the opposite of pain.


It is the constant because we work at it day and night. It is only when we exceed our painspace, when we can no longer work to reproduce the pain of others (by serving and making them pain food (food that will create and numb pain simultaneously) by creating pain-saturated objects that are consumed by workers who must work (at pain work in pain spaces) more to buy them) that we are worthless to the pain economy.


We invade and colonize other countries, force them to adhere to our painkiller restrictions (‘drug laws’), force them to make pain in greater amounts, store it in banks, while shrinking the space that is painless, moving it farther and farther away. It only exists in the virtual, in media, the unreachable. A global Empire of Pain.

I want to insist that female pain is still news. It’s always news. We’ve never already heard it. It’s news when a girl loses her virginity or gets an ache in the rag and bone shop of her heart. It’s news when she starts getting her period or when she does something to make herself stop. It’s news if a woman feels terrible about herself in the world—​anywhere, anytime, ever. It’s news whenever a girl has an abortion because her abortion has never been had before and won’t ever be had again. I’m saying this as someone who’s had an abortion but hasn’t had anyone else’s.
Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain by Leslie Jamison in VQR.

“So, for the person in pain, so incontestably and unnegotiably present is it that ‘having pain’ may come to be thought of as the most vibrant example of what it is to ‘have certainty,’ while for the other person it is so elusive that ‘hearing about pain’ may exist as the primary model of what it is to ‘have doubt.’ Thus pain comes unsharably into our midst as at once that which cannot be denied and that which cannot be confirmed. Whatever pain achieves, it achieves in part through its resistance to language.” – Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain.

There are no words for pain because pain itself is a form of communication, the body trying to tell the self/consciousness something urgent. It can’t be communicated because it already is communication but in the words and grammar of the body, which can’t be translated or maybe we have forgotten how. Now we seek out experts to translate our pain to us. Experts use blood tests and other ways of looking to tell us what our bodies are telling us. When they can tell us. When they can tell us, it is usually a story called something like IBS or Multiple sclerosis. These stories are well-known and rational. They have treatments if not cures. These stories are supposed to have endings, happy endings. But the body keeps telling us and nothing will shut it up. Sometimes it tells us to death.

What I know from my own pain is that this story we have been telling ourselves about our bodies and how they work, how they don’t work, is not true. If you’ve read Foucault you know that medicine is a way of looking at and understanding and controlling bodies. Medicine makes its own knowledge or stories about how bodies work, how they don’t work, and how to make them work again. These stories are usually very linear, very straightforward, rational: something happened to you/you did something >body is damaged > diagnose cause of damage > treat disease/damage with some chemical, surgery, or treatment > cure.

The thing I’ve discovered since finding out I have an endocrine disease, is that the body doesn’t work at all the way we’re told it does. That story in which cells and organs tell other organs what to do and when (like little individuals making rational choices) is a great fiction. These systems (glands in the endocrine system, the brain, etc.) are all entangled in feedback loops. The thalamus does its thing, making the proteins, hormones, enzymes and other chemicals it makes with what’s available. Those chemicals are then taken up by other glands that make their own things. If there’s too much of one thing, the other gland will make more of whatever it makes because it has more stuff to make it with. No cell or gland is sitting in the body sending out orders to other glands to make more or less. There is no hierarchy. There are just entangled systems interacting. An ecosystem – many entangled ecosystems. We can affect these ecosystems indirectly by putting different things in our bodies (food, supplements, drugs, exercise), but when you’re dealing with entangled systems, there is no straightforward way to fix anything. But this is still a story that begins and ends in the world of medicine when so much of what I know now about the story our bodies tell us through pain and chronic disease extends far beyond the body into food, culture, environment, politics, work. The body and its pain, don’t end and begin at the skin. There is no boundary for the body.

Pain Organ


The pain organ is really a body. The pain body. (is the body really a pain organ?)

The pain body lives inside the body and is also its skin (its surface area, its bound). The pain body is the only way I know I have a body (mirrors and cameras lie). Pain is what is out there even when it is in here. We can only know what is out there through the pain body so there is no body without pain so what is the body?