My body has been on fire for the past decade. Think less “Damn, I’m fucking jacked!” and more “STOP, DROP, AND ROLL!” This fire stems from an irreversible neurological disorder and its antecedent nerve injury.
You may well think I am exaggerating. That’s fine. It’s hard to imagine being perpetually on fire. Why would anyone want to imagine that? Perhaps a finer point is needed. Why should anyone have to imagine themselves on fire, undying, for years? Do you even want to? Such wondering can only be rewarded by non-understanding. Sure we’ve all burnt our fingers, but can you imagine that moment when the flame touched your finger pad dragging on for years?
I read a quote today attributed to Julius Cæsar. “It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die, than to find those who are willing to endure pain with patience.” Irrespective of the author, the speaker has a point. Ask yourself this question — which would you rather? Die, or submit to a life set alight, every moment of every day. That’s it. Those are your choices.
Which would you choose?
There’s a reason the non-fatal neurological disorder I endure — Complex Regional Pain Syndrome — is known colloquially as “The Suicide Disease,” and I suspect it comes down to this very dilemma. After all, what is the point of continuing onward — body consumed by an invisible fire, mind slowed by pain, spirit shattered from constant existential questioning — if one horn of the dilemma, that of living, is a Sisyphean act‽ Or, as Camus mused, “There is only one really serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy.” In other words, what’s the breaking point?
Pain enables people to flood their bodies with chemicals, injure themselves to trigger the mind’s pain gating mechanism (the brain prioritizes trauma — immediate threats receive more attention than chronic), and, through it all, watch as their core being slowly floats away amidst their drifting dendritic ash. This disease, living with omnipresent burning pain, is worse than any flesh-horror of Silent Hill — because of the compounded threat of Covid and the opioid crisis, not even the nurses pay attention to us, doctors shirk away (though not out of fear for their safety but their medical licences), churches are no longer safe ground, and the most vulnerable are drawing away from those whom we love most. Like dying cats. At least there’s no literal barbed wire — it just feels like it. Besides, because we’re on fire, we’re more susceptible to infection. There is no help to be had. There is only the self.
I’m writing this now under the influence of dextromethorphan, an NDMA-antagonist. As Dev rapped in «Bass Down Low» (2010), I am “straight buzzin’, Robotussin.” [ Video here: https://youtu.be/OOAMfUJ3tsc ]. Sounds fun, right‽ It’s not. We of the invisible conflagration are desperate for relief, but the risk-reward benefit is too low. The math is painful. It is also easy: Go to the Emergency Room, wait for hours for a single possible injection of something to take your pain away, and end up dying weeks later … after fighting so hard to not!
I’ve turned to studies and long shots in the hope that maybe this one time — these four or six or eight hours — the flames will be snuffed. And, even if they are, they’ll come back. Such is the nature of fire.
The flames shall continue to consume my spirit, my patience, my will. Perhaps something shall come from the ash when it falls back to earth in this imagined space. But, just like Silent Hill, it’s cyclical — any relief is temporary, brief, an eau de vie … You live for these brief respites even as they tear your professional life apart. Your reputation. Your baseline health. It’s all you’ve got, after all, this temporary escape.
You will burn again — it’s just a question of timing.
Brian Vlasak, MFA, PhD is a disabled essayist and thinker living in Salem, Massachusetts. Dr. Vlasak‘s work has been published in ‘Coffin Bell,’ Paragon Press’s ‘Echo: A Journal of Nonfiction,’ ‘Columbia Journal,’ and is forthcoming this in fall’s ‘Saranac Review’. They unwind by losing games of Overwatch.