Let me start by saying that I have a fraught relationship with the pain scale. You know what I’m talking about, right? That range of emoji-like faces numbered 0 to 10 to help you rate your discomfort from non-existent to the worst pain ever.

Yes, I can see its usefulness in some acute situations, but when you’re a pain connoisseur like me—when the ebb and flow of constant pain is part of daily life—the whole thing can become almost meaningless. I mean, what the fork is the difference between a 5 and a 6 anyway? Sometimes I lose sleep wondering if I’m scaling my pain correctly. And when you live with pain every. single. day. it becomes more a sliding scale. What was a 5 a few years ago might now feel like a 2, if that makes sense. Even when the pain is unbearable, so bad that I almost lose consciousness, I hesitate to label it a 10 because what if tomorrow is even worse? Plus, sometimes the location or quality of the pain can make a 4 on the scale feel more disabling than a 7, if that makes sense.

I used to think that I had pain-free days, but then a nurse told me 0 meant no pain, no twinges, no pressure, and I laughed because I thought she had to be joking.

Also, the pain scale doesn’t really account for a host of other disabling symptoms like vertigo, blurred vision, numbness, tingling, speech aphasia, motor control, etc.  

And that’s all before you take into account societal expectations about pain and how most chronically ill people, but especially women, think long and hard about the “right” number to give at an appointment—one that’s high enough to express that they are really in profound and disabling pain, but not so high that they get dismissed as being melodramatic and hysterical. 

The shorter version of all this is that the pain scale is complicated and imperfect, but also a part of daily life for me and for so many people living with chronic illnesses.

It made sense then to reclaim it and repurpose it as a rating scale for all the movies and shows I watch while I’m in some hellish cycle of pain and recovery. So I present to you my: 

Chronically Streaming Pain Scale*

0-Bliss: Every little thing feels all right. Nothing hurts.
If I am dreaming, please do not wake me up.
1-Comfortable: Maybe there are some annoying twinges here and there,
but overall the good outweighs the bad. 
2-Meh: Sometimes I have the distinct desire to remove an eyeball to relieve the pain, but I can’t complain too much. Drugs would dull the discomfort, but I can get through without.
3-Distressing: I’m so uncomfortable. I wonder if this will ever stop. I might want to be sedated. 
4-Agony: Holy hell. Everything is awful. Is this for real?
I can’t remember when anything was good. Give me all the drugs at once.

*Please note: This rating scale, and my application of it to movies and series, is highly unscientific, very biased, and definitely not consistent.