National Association of Student Anthropologists
Chronic pain has been described as that which unmakes worlds (Scarry 1985) and sets those who live with it apart (Jackson 2000). It is a sensation present every moment, and so affects every aspect of a sufferer’s life. My interlocutors have, out of their shared experience of endless pain, formed a community. Pain, which separates them from those who do not share and understand it as an unending sensation, here serves as a socializing force. The group’s membership has taken their status as those set apart by constant pain, and pain as a destructive force that prevents them from participating in life as expected, and instead forged for themselves a place where they collectively belong. By placing emphasis on pain above any biomedical diagnosis – which members may or may not possess – members of the support group provide one another with a sense of belonging and care they can not find elsewhere. Recently, opioid prescribing restrictions have come to play a large role in the support members offer one another. Support group members work together to find sympathetic doctors still willing to prescribe, to prepare for appointments with reluctant physicians, and even to participate in Senate testimony regarding the efficacy of opioids for managing chronic pain. Support group members strive to ensure continued access to medications they say allow them to engage in life as expected: to maintain jobs, care for their families, and join in social life.