Historian and author Brandy Schillace, PhD, is Editor for Medhum Fiction | Daily Dose, Research Associate and Public Engagement at the Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum, as well as Managing Editor of the medical anthropology journal Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry.
BMJ Medical Humanities will host a special issue on PAIN in June 2018! We want you to be part of it!
Title: Pain and its Paradoxes
Abstract Deadline: August 1, 2017
Final Submission Deadline: October 1, 2017 (publication date June 2018)
Pain is almost certainly the most common illness experience on the planet. Yet, it is frequently treated poorly, and those who experience pain often endure skepticism, doubt, and stigma for their condition. In most places around the world, pain closely tracks social power structures, which means that marginalized groups are both more likely to experience pain, and are more likely to have it regarded dubiously and treated inadequately.
Moreover, while pain is a near-universal part of the human condition, it remains difficult to define and conceptualize. As Emily Dickinson famously noted, pain has an element of blank. And while pain and suffering are often experienced together, they remain distinct phenomena: some people in pain do not suffer, and some people who suffer state that they are not in pain. Pain is an essential pathway to redemption for many, and for others it exists only as a devastating, hollowing experience that defies meaning. In short, the paradoxes of pain are multiple, varied, and slippery. While pain has not escaped scholarly attention in the medical and health humanities over the last decade, current and inequitable burdens of global pain alone justify sustained focus and analysis. Accordingly, the Special Issue of Medical Humanities on “Pain and its Paradoxes” aims to integrate critical and rigorous scholarship (peer reviewed) addressing the lived experiences of pain, past, present, and future. Specifically, we invite manuscripts on subjects including but not limited to
The nature and concept of pain;
The history of pain;
The phenomenology of pain;
Narratives of pain;
The relationship between pain and suffering;
Pain as an emotional experience (including the history of pain as emotional experience);
Pain and anxiety;
Pain and sympathy;
Pain and grief;
Pain and inequalities (race, gender, class, age, disability status, etc.);
Pain and disability;
Pain and stigma;
Pain and pharmaceuticals, including but not limited to opioids
The editors are especially interested in manuscripts considering pain from non-Western contexts.
Interested contributors should send an abstract to EIC Brandy Schillace (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Guest Editor Daniel Goldberg (email@example.com) no later than August 1, 2017. Final submissions should be submitted to the BMJ Medical Humanities online ScholarOne system, choosing the category Special Issue: Pain and it’s Paradoxes by October 1, 2017. All contributions will be subject to rigorous peer review.
If you follow this blog, you know that our primary focus has been health and humanities, the intersection of medicine and social and cultural studies. But today, half the country feels they have swallowed a bitter pill. The other half feel that they’ve been vindicated, perhaps, but all can agree that this has been the most unhealthy election cycle in living memory. I found myself listening to the results in the wee hours, and then reflecting on what this might mean, not only for our nation, but also for our small communities and families. I want to provide here some encouragement, some insight, and we as a forum want to give our readers a sense of solidarity–for we are with you.
To those who supported Sen. Hillary Clinton, I say this. The grief you feel is real and you have a right to it. As with any loss, the anger and shock are feelings that we must work through. But let’s remember that despair and hope are not feelings, but choices. We must work against despair, even at our darkest moments, because despair is paralyzing. We must choose hope, because hope cannot stand without us. But also, while you mourn the loss of a dream, be assured: this was still a historic moment. You voted for the first Continue reading “Moving on from Election 2016”→
It has been a difficult year. But for some, this year’s seeming upsurge of violence represents only the now-visible crest over a lifetime of submerged struggle and frustration against systemic abuse. History tells a different tale. We are not experiencing a new and dangerous age; No, for there remains a long record of racism, lynch mobs, violence against women, and murder of people professing different faith or gender orientation than those with power and motivation to silence them. In the face of terror–in light of Orlando, of Dallas, of Nice, of Syria, of Turkey, and of tragedies in our own towns and cities–we are apt to feel helpless and overwhelmed. We may be tempted to silence, to the feeling that nothing we say will matter. This is true of victims, who feel their words go no where. This is also true of allies and of those whose race or gender keeps them safe (or safer) from the abuses they witness. What could I possibly have to say? We may think, in shame, or in anger, that silence is all we have…
Today’s Friday Fiction features the work of Sharon Dempsey, a journalist and author who facilitates writing workshops for those affected by illness. In her work today, she shares how writing becomes an act of patient empowerment, fiction serving as a voice and a means of controlling and absorbing the chaos of illness.
medhum Fiction|Guest Post By Sharon Dempsey
Medicine, in essence, is a transaction of stories. The patient’s telling of symptoms, the interpretation of evidence and investigation on the part of medic, is the basis of the diagnosis process.
To seek expression out of illness is a natural reaction, yet the power of story is not fully harnessed in medicine. Health and disease are concerned with life and death, and are closely connected to the physical, social, psychological and spiritual nature of humans. So often we have focused on cure over care. Narrative medicine seeks to redress this imbalance.
My personal interest lies in the the relationship between story and medicine: to look at how we use narrative in illness and to how we might use creative writing and literature as an effective means of communicating, to help voice the concerns of the patient, and to help the physician to understand the impact of lived experience of illness. When patients take ownership of their illness narrative and are active in seeking the information they need, they gain greater insight into how they can best make decisions regarding their treatment. In short, to understand and speak about their illness experience is to be empowered in the face of illness and mortality. Research has shown that writing about traumatic, stressful or emotional events can be beneficial for both physical and psychological health, in non-clinical and clinical settings. To tell a story is a most human transaction.
My awareness of this relationship between literature and writing to illness and medicine came through personal experience: in caring for my son Owen who was diagnosed with an ependymoma brain tumor at the age of two. Despite surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, Owen died when he was six. I found solace in writing and reading. My experience of grief and bereavement led me to see a direct correlation between my ability to cope with what I was reading and how I was able to express my grief through writing.
Part of my work now, twelve years after Owen’s death, involves designing and facilitating therapeutic creative writing workshops for patients affected by cancer. Delivering the workshops has reaffirmed my belief that writing and reading literature generates a sense of well-being and helps the participants to deal with the emotional repercussions of cancer.
Being part of a creative writing group has many benefits. Through writing, participants can take control of their illness and process the changes that the illness and treatment has made to their lives. This is what the illness narrative is about: the writer can find expression for emotions and feelings, and this in turn allows them to feel validated, to be understood and to gain self awareness, while providing a platform to share with other like-minded people.
Gary Hunter, a participant of our workshops, states that they enable him, “to articulate feelings that might otherwise remain unexpressed”–
“In a way, writing gives me back a modicum of control over my situation and helps me deal with my diagnosis and the effects of living with cancer. I have a creative outlet for my frustration, uncertainty and anger,” he said.
After a workshop, Gary felt “a sense of achievement, especially when [his] work has been enjoyed and praised”; Moreover, the workshops provided him “an excellent and welcome forum for expressing one’s feelings and concerns in a secure, confidential and non-judgmental environment, in the company of people who understand the cancer experience.” Through his fiction and memoir writing, Gary has explored cancer’s impact on relationships, self-image, faith and even the loss of faith. Other participants have shared that the workshops offer healing, empathy, release, inspiration, validation and empowerment.
The monthly workshops that I facilitate are run by a charity called Cancer Focus Northern Ireland, and provide an opportunity to reflect on personal experience in a safe, supportive environment. We state that no previous writing experience is required, and the workshops are open to relatives and carers of those affected by cancer, too. Illness never affects only the patient, even though illness narrative is often the expression of the patient’s lived experience of illness. Through communicating illness, the patient (and their families and perhaps even their doctors) gains a sense of control, finds comfort in expression and consolation in being heard. This sense of seeking clarity and meaning through writing is present in my creative writing workshops, even though cancer is not the primary focus of our writing. We have explored memoir, flash fiction, poetry, script writing, journal writing, and nature writing and we are about to embark on a genre series starting with crime writing. The act of creating and writing is more important than the subject, yet themes and set exercises provide a structure to conduct the writing. Our work is a means to an end in itself – our creative self- expression. Yet I can see there is much to be gained for physicians and carers, too, as they witness the power of storytelling in action.
As writers, the patients can bring order to their world. They can employ creativity, punctuation, grammar, structure and format to a world of confusion, emotional turmoil and often sadness. Twelve years after my son’s death, I still write for him and about him. It’s my treatment. In facilitating and participating workshops, I have recognized the value of humanizing the medical experience, and honoring the shared story.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Sharon Dempsey is a journalist, health writer and creative writing facilitator based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Follow @svjdempz