pain and attention, or; what the street taught me about short term thinking

I feel like pain – psychological and physical both – creates circumstances in which it becomes ever more difficult to make the kinds of decisions required to ease that very pain.
For example, when I was homeless- life became a never-ending series of what I’ve been calling ‘making decisions out of desperation’….taken to the utmost extreme of that concept.
It becomes very difficult to think in the long term, when the fears of every moment are so overwhelming.
I feel like our brains, perhaps- allocate our very attention, itself, in proportion to perceived severity of a threat (or the perceived extent of gain).
The greater the threat, the greater the pain- and the more immediate the prospect of such; the greater our inability to think about anything else, becomes.
When I was worried about what would happen were I to fall asleep in particularly dangerous areas, around particularly dangerous people- the long term costs of using crystal meth were eclipsed by the (perceived) short term benefits of staying awake long enough to find a relatively safer place.
It took me a long time to get it through my terribly slow lizard brain (to borrow the phrase from Dan Carlin!) – that the problem with forcing my body to stay awake for days on end, was that it resulted, inevitably – in a forced sleep, at some point. One that I rarely had much choice in the timing or location of.
My mom once commented to me about how much it annoyed her that people on welfare got free grocery bags, yet seemed to never reuse them- while she had to pay for them, but was much more responsible in her usage.
The accuracy of such a statement aside (let’s posit, for the sake of argument, that she was correct) – it becomes so difficult to find the energy – nay, even sometimes the very awareness – necessary to do such seemingly simple things as reusing grocery bags, when one is worried about how to feed one’s children the next day, for example.
I was thinking about this today because my tooth has been hurting for the past few days.
I tried going into a dentist yesterday, but because of the pandemic, the waiting list is months long. There are other dentist’s offices in town that I have not tried yet- but after days of pain at the intensity it’s been at….I am just drained.
I know that I will not start feeling better until I get this taken care of, but every day I do not- it becomes harder to do so.
I do not have any easy answers for how to use these observations to better our lives, or to summon the energy to fix things when we are actively feeling pain, when we are actively suffering.
I wrote this more out of a desire to help shed light on why people so frequently seem to act selfishly towards society when in dire straits, or out of laziness do not seem to be trying to fix the problems in their lives.
I feel like it’s possible that even laziness is frequently, maybe even always- rooted in pain. In trauma.


I spent three years living on the street in Los Angeles. I came out of that, changed. This is my story.

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