Sweet Sandpaper Dreams--Dealing with Chronic Pain

by Sally Matheny
Small, green squares of sandpaper were taped in various places around our house. Three days passed before my husband finally said, “Okay, what's up with all the sandpaper squares?”

Reluctantantly, I said the sandpaper squares were just little reminders for me. That did not suffice his curiosity. Nor did it satisfy my daughters, who after hearing my dream, insisted I share it with you all. 

Most of the time I don’t sleep well enough to dream at all. However, one night I dreamed I was riding an old, school activity bus. I was aware of being with familiar people but I couldn’t really name them. Laughter and chatter gushed through the bus. We were an excited bunch.

Eventually, the bus bumped onto an unpaved route through an open field. The rough terrain jostled us about and I remember mentioning several times about it causing pain to my neck.

After bounding down through the field awhile, we finally arrived at a vast, old barn. The bus windows were down and festive music swirled in the air. The bus pulled alongside the barn and parked.  

Through the barn's large open window, I could see a lively party taking place. Smiles, laughter, and music filled the room. Excitement bubbled forth from the bus passengers as they prepared to exit.

The bus driver asked if I would please stay seated until everyone disembarked. I wondered why he would ask such a thing but I obliged, thinking perhaps he had a question or something.

After everyone left, the bus driver handed me a piece of brown sandpaper. Fingering its roughness, I said, “I don’t understand. What’s this for?”
He kindly explained that I would have to stay on the bus and watch from the window.


“Because every time you say something about your pain, it is slightly abrasive, like this sandpaper.”

I did not ask for further explanation. I knew exactly what he meant. In reality, I diligently try not to whine about my chronic neck pain. but try to report it in a matter-of-fact way. However, no matter how one says it, if one says it too often, it becomes irritatingly abrasive.
Point taken.

Holding the sandpaper in my lap, I remember feeling sad and left out. There was no anger, just remorse as I watched the people having fun inside.

Then I woke up.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, I pondered it all for a moment. Immediately, I began a search for sandpaper. All I could find was the green kind. That was okay; perhaps it would hark a little louder. I wanted reminders everywhere.

The pain is more noticeable at night, so one square went beside my bed and another near the bathroom sink. Now, As I brush my teeth, I rub my finger across its scratchy surface.
My family knows nights are worse. I don’t have to tell them that. They see me retrieve ice packs, Tylenol, and such. They are kind and understanding. Continual updates are unnecessary.

The refrigerator was next. After a long day, the neck may be sore but a meal needs to be prepared. A stroke or two over the green sandpaper and soon the food is ready and we’re giving God thanks.

Another sandpaper square is inside my purse. Often, when I reach for my cell phone or keys, my knuckle scrapes across it. Not verbally, but mentally, I say “ouch.” Exactly, I think with a smile.
After telling my sweet husband about my dream, he tried to assure me that I was being too hard on myself. He said I did not complain too much—that it was all my own subconscious worries about complaining.
Nonetheless, the sandpaper dream made an impact and my life has changed.
Don’t get me wrong. Our days do not float smoothly by on cotton candy clouds. Some days are great. Others are chaotic. Life is real at our house. Problems and pain come and go.
However, I have witnessed the effects of ceasing the repetitive pain updates.

I feel better!
Life is a little sweeter.

And next time...I'm getting off the bus!