Whilst browsing Plymouth Central Library’s health and lifestyle section, I came across “Pain is Really Strange” written by Steve Haines and illustrated by Sophie Standing. The blurb describes the book as being able to answer what pain is, how nerves work and how we can change our pain experience, as well as exploring our ability to retrain the brain. Highly illustrative, this book offers some complex information about the experience of pain. This format is something I have never come across whilst researching fibromyalgia and its symptoms, so I was eager to explore.
Despite the book’s graphic novel aesthetic, I was surprised at the intensity of the information it was giving. It felt like a juxtaposition, aesthetically could be mistaken for a children’s book but with contents that are very complex. It starts by explaining different types of pain and how they present themselves. As I am a sufferer of chronic pain as part of fibromyalgia, I focused on studying Haine’s words on chronic pain specifically.
He describes chronic pain as being defined or diagnosed as lasting for longer than 3-6 months, including whilst its being treated. He states that pain is a reflex of emotion and memory and chronic pain has no real use to the human body; it’s like a bad habit. Pain is “your brain telling you it think’s something is dangerous”.
The book goes on to explore the nervous system and the science behind why we suffer with pain. From what I understand, the nervous system is made up of neurotags and if you pull on one element, pain is triggered. Chronic pain is a fault in the alarm system, as if the alarm levels are always turned up.
“Pain is Really Strange” goes on to give advice on how to deal with pain and its symptoms. Examples include being creative and paying more attention to the subtle movements your body makes, understanding your body and building a better map of it in your mind. Visualising body movements will also help. Haines also advises to be more curious to different sensations, as opposed to being fearful. This, coupled with using more positive descriptive terms and fitting metaphors, will help build a more positive outlook on your condition, as well as providing a language that provides potential for change.
The presentation was what drew me to this material. I have been handed numerous pamphlets and print outs since being diagnosed, and for me personally, I have found them to be very overwhelming to read. As part of my condition, I struggle to concentrate to a huge amount of text, often having to ask for assistance with reading and interpreting what is being said. With the use of illustrations and metaphors, I could digest the information and advice a lot easier, without assistance. It was really nice to be able to learn without help from someone else, making me feel more independent in controlling and understanding my condition. This in itself is unique and something I would like to adopt in my future work.
The use of full pages and multiple images on one page not only creates a pace (the same as a graphic novel or comic) it also allows information to be presented in more suitable ways, depending on its complexity. Full pages tend to have larger and more complex illustrative metaphors to accompany the text, where as multiple panels on one page offer examples or bite size information. This helped me further to make sense of what was being said.
A majority of pages also provided a small amount of text on the bottom, expanding on an idea or providing a quote from Haine’s research, as well as offering suggestions for further reading. This text is not essential to read, but gives further depth into the topic as well as providing an insight into Haine’s research materials
I read this book cover to cover in about an hour, whilst taking notes to help me digest the contents. I did have to re-read some pages but that was mainly because they offered more complicated material. I have looked at some reviews on this book to see how other people felt about it. With a 4.5 star review score on Amazon, numerous customers agree with me that it is an easier to digest format for a complicated subject matter. I feel this format is really approachable and can involve people who suffer with brain fog like myself, as well as people who struggle to read a lot of text, in learning about pain. Haines and Standing have collaborated on a second book called “Trauma is Really Strange”, which I plan to purchase and review soon, as this is a subject that is equally important to understand in regards to fibromyalgia.
A number of consumers of “Pain is Really Strange” also suggested that a book like this may be more suitable as a pamphlet available in a medical environment, such as hospitals or local GPs. I agree that this is something that is really missing from information we are given in a medical setting. I found this book in a library. Not all pain sufferers have the ability to go out and actively look for material like I am. I also never came across this whilst looking for books about chronic pain online, on sites such as Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmiths.
Overall, I feel that “Pain is Really Strange” is incredibly successful in conveying the message in an easy to digest manner, whilst also being aesthetically beautiful and intriguing. This has inspired me to be open to the idea of creating something with a more medical take on chronic fatigue and chronic pain.
Amazon. 2017. Pain is Really Strange. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Pain-Really-Strange-Steve-Haines/dp/1848192649/ref=pd_sbs_14_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=WH842GJ2SC4AX1WVZQC3. [Accessed 29 August 2017].
Haines, S, 2015. Pain is Really Strange. 1st ed. London: Singing Dragon.