by Tina McGrath

On being a total pain explores the lived experience of total pain as a suspension of personal agentic identity where desires to do, become, belong and simply be are trapped within a sustained moment of pain and discomfort. Often the pain itself is the focus of the medical gaze, however, the deep meanings attached to this pain become an unspeakable distress when this pain is separated from the lived experience of it and the limitations that it inflicts on agency and futurity. The person, and sometimes others, can further diminish the person within this traumatic pain experience by describing them as “a total pain”, thus essentially limiting and defining them in terms of their pain.

I ache to tell you the truth of where it hurts.

Not just here, in these bones,

where the gravity of life

brings an unbearable swingeing sadness

hobbling any holding

of time, space, being  – such small important matters


but, here, in the brittle garden choked by my absence,

and here, in the cold kitchen’s silent pots and pans

and here, in this dining room’s hunger for uninvited faded faces

and here, in the forgiving eyes of the unwalked dog

and here, in this window pane,

pain, that denies me a beyond, a becoming

and here, in this harsh chair, that won’t yield, that won’t yield

to comfort, today, tomorrow


Where everything taunts with the promise of a better day, a moment’s grace


It hurts,


It hurts,


Tina McGrath is a writer with a healthcare background and a deep interest in the complexities of human embodiment. Her work explores the subjectivities of how the body is lived along the continuum of health and illness.