Learning through internalising pain
Considering it was an obvious part of my experience of womanhood, the need is to un-condition one's self from these patterns
For more than a month I had been living in pain. I had accepted it as my fate. It was my left toe, the biggest one. The nail had grown thicker. I was convinced of an in-growth. The gap in my nail-cutter was insufficient to clasp at it. I didn't have time to deal with this before leaving for Italy. In any case, I wasn't sure what could have been done. I figured this must have happened because in Kolkata, I'd tried to break into a new pair of black loafers. I imagined it would eventually ease up — the gnawing pain. Eventually, I just learned to accommodate its intensity. It became a part of my reality. Some days it was unbearable, some days it was tolerable. I didn't even realise how much bodily exhaustion the thickened toenail had caused. I took it in my stride.
Then yesterday, after I'd been standing for nearly an hour and a half while cooking a light lunch for my partner and his family — carrot and pumpkin couscous with sunflower seeds and parsley; grilled zucchini fillets and grilled tomatoes topped with fresh mozzarella and basil — my toe was in agony. While the dishes were being cleared, I went to lie down. I told my partner that I was in pain, making a puppy-dog face seeking sympathy. When he heard that it was on account of the toe, he decided enough was enough. He suggested we show it to his mother who was no stranger to such a problem since she regularly suffered from toe-related ailments. She looked at it and told us we needed to go to a "Cosmetic" in Neumarkt, the neighbouring town that is home to Gelateria Arlecchino, a family-run establishment that makes excellent artisanal ice-cream (they have such rare seasonal flavors as pine-nut and chestnut). Though the appointment was for Thursday, on Wednesday, after our mini-golf game, we headed to Neumarkt as my partner had an appointment with the family hairdresser. We grabbed gelato, then he decided to show me the route I'd be taking to Cosmetic Erica, after taking the city bus on Thursday. I suggested we drop by the shop since we were there, so he could explain to them in Dialect what the problem was, given they were unlikely to speak English. We got super lucky, though. We walked in and they happened to have a free moment. Later I would learn that this was a women-run family business now being serviced by the third generation!
Over the next 10 minutes, the podiatrist, who had at her disposal an enviable array of equipment to tackle all sorts of toe-related disorders, 'thinned' the surface of my nail as well as dug inwards to remove excessive dead cells. In German, she told my partner that basically I'd managed to get a callous inside my toe — a condition that was partly genetic and partly the result of excessive pressure. Suddenly, I was no longer in pain. There was no constant ache, no insistent throbbing of the nerves of my left big toe. There was a slight tremor, the body acknowledging a wound. But I was now able to walk without my toe grimacing inside my boots. I paid 15 Euros, the equivalent of '1,200,
which made it still not as frightfully expensive as I thought it would be. Why had I allowed myself to suffer for so long when I could have fixed the problem instead?
I'm not sure. Maybe I was helpless and didn't know who to turn to, especially since the pain had intensified only after my coming to Italy. I felt daunted by the imagined cost. I was willing to endure that magnitude of chronic duress until I returned to India in early December. It was not masochism that had driven me to settle for this condition of perpetual pain, but maybe I had just normalised it? Told my body that this was how things were going to be, henceforth. At least it wasn't anything serious. Or maybe I had simply internalised pain as a part of my experience of womanhood. I remember reading once how if a woman was asked to pinpoint her experience of pain on a scale of 1 to 10, a doctor had to ideally add at least three to four points to compensate for her conditioned dishonesty. Have many of us have become so wary of being called hysterical that we tone down our experience of affliction as a defence mechanism?
I read later that a callous is the body's way of building protective cushioning between surface and interior in order to minimise damage. It is a corporeal strategy to mitigate excessive impact. I've lost track of how many hair-brained survival schemes I've concocted over the years to maintain my sanity. But I've figured, from this recent experience, that the project of self-empowerment must involve un-conditioning one's self from these patterns. Why live with affliction when you can learn from it instead?
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to email@example.com
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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