My piece is a song called “Head Above Water” by Avril Lavigne. I discovered this song a couple years ago and felt more connected to it as a depiction of mental health struggles, but it was actually written about her struggle with the chronic pain associated with Lyme disease. I like the song a lot so I chose to evaluated it as a depiction of chronic pain
What about the art made you think that it is expressing a pain experience?
This song strikes me as one that depicts one person reaching out to their God for strength. There are no other people (family/friends) mentioned in the song. This makes me thing that the song is depicting a pain experience for 2 reasons. First, I think many people who are religious and are experiencing pain reach out to their God for strength because especially with chronic pain there may be no way to completely abolish the pain so reaching out to a bigger entity may offer additional comfort that cannot be found elsewhere. Secondly, pain is an extremely personal experience a person may struggle to make others understand exactly how they feel and so I think only having the one person referenced in the song helps to represent how alone a person who is experiencing pain may feel. Family and friends, and even HCPs may be there to help and support, but it can feel like they don’t truly understand what the individual is going through
I don’t want to dissect the lyrics of the song too much, but if you listen to the song you will hear the general tone is one of pleading and desperation. I think especially in the context of chronic pain individuals who are in pain often feel desperate to have the pain stop or desperate to have the strength to till go about their daily lives with the pain weighing them down. Additionally, the imagery of drowning that is conveyed in the lyrics is a very powerful choice in my opinion and I think it is a good metaphor for how pain can feel.
How did the interpretation of your chosen artwork help you to understand the human pain experience?
I am not super religious, so I think this song helps to remind me that although I may not use faith as a way to cope with pain, I may have patients that do rely heavily on that practice and as a HCP I shouldn’t let my feeling about faith impact how I help a patient. I will have to recognize that they value that and not let the differences in our values impact the success of our sessions. I don’t think I will struggle to do that, but it is something I think I will have to keep in the back of my head when I am interacting with patients that do value faith and religion.
I also think that it is important for me to keep in mind that pain is super personal. Although to me it may not look like a patient should be in as much pain as they are saying, for them that pain is real and they may feel like they are drowning. Respecting how a patient describes their pain and being open tot adjusting your session plans based on how a patient is feeling is important. Yes we should still encourage patients to do what they can, keeping their pain experience in mind is important. I have been the patient who had 8/10 pain despite no physical signs that would give an indication that there is a cause of that pain. It is super frustrating and confusing as a patient to just have inexplicable pain and not have anyone believe that you are in pain just makes those emotions worse. Part of the reason I want to be a PT is to help people who feel debilitated by pain or injury so keeping reflections like this in mind moving forward will be helpful.
What do you guys think is most important for us as PT’s to understand about pain?
I think based on my reflection (just in case it isn’t 100% clear) that my answer is that the pain experience is unique to each individual, and that we as PT have to recognize that and not treat every patient with a certain condition the same way. Sure, there may be similarities but, we cant ignore the unique struggles that individuals have and despite our best efforts, we may not ever fully understand what they are going through.