Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Pain and my inner-most self

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Pain has been on my mind lately as I re-write parts of a book. Specifically, I expose how pain has been a teacher in my life. I remember when I first named the chapter that and showed it to someone, they immediately flipped the page and remarked that no one wants to read about that.

I was a bit shocked by the response; not what I had expected. This person has experienced pain, but in a different form than mine. Theirs was cancer and mine, chronic. My best friend, who has lived much of this journey with me, says, from her perspective, the chronic pain seems much harder to deal with than something more acute. I think she means over the long haul.

I wonder why that is? I believe it may have something to do with how we normalize things. For example, with an acute diagnosis, we tend to gear up into how-to-fight-this mode and move through phases either of improvement and managing it, denial or accepting the prognosis. There are defined treatments, periods and, often, some sort of conclusion. I am not saying any of this is easy. The waiting and now knowing are probably the worst; then the threat of the disease returning. And yet, we normalize.

When, at 24, my best friend was dying of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, no one dared breathe the word death. We all were in total denial from the gut-rendering respiratory treatments to the priest’s offer of last rites and my friend’s mother leaving his room untouched for years as if he’d return any moment. We told ourselves that Mike was not dying. When he did, I was racked with guilt that he’d not had the chance to discuss it with anyone, save the priest. We each normalized it.

I don’t dare to compare fibromyalgia to cancer; it’s like apples to oranges. Nor do I wish to minimize its trauma. As such, I have never been able to normalize my fibromyalgia like I did with Mike. Of course, this happened to me and that’s a game-changer. I’ve normalized surgeries, scary tests and the limbo of waiting for results, however. In the case of the fibro, nothing much seems defined except that life is different than before, very different. There’s not a bar I am trying to get back to. Sure, there was at first, but that was of my own creation. I am learning the new normal, as my healing-touch friend terms it.

I am uncovering that, from one day to the next, I am not the same person. I can not depend on having had a fitful sleep, the energy, pain-free body or clarity I used to. Everything is NOT going to be the same as it was.

Isn’t that what life is really all about: experiencing each day as it comes without expectation? Even with gratitude?

I was much more complacent and demanding when I lived normally. Was more asleep with eight unbroken hours. Numb from not feeling pain. Unaware and unappreciative of my body. Taken in by the world and removed from God within.

Why would I ever want to be normal, for pain has taught me about my innermost self?

• How can I view pain as a teacher?
• What lessons has it dispensed?
• How have I normalized trauma?
• What happens when I don’t?
• What relationship do pain and Spirit have in my life?

I used to think
I was better

when I slept,
remembered everything
when I wanted,
could make my body
move however I wanted,

when I was normal
as the world valued

until pain met me,
turned my world
upside down

and awoke my numbness

now I know better


  1. Pain also allows me to truly empathize with others. I don't have the same pain, but I know what pain is. I can begin to appreciate how important an expression of understanding can be. I have a greater incentive to help because I have been grateful for the help I have received. When I was hanging on by my fingernails, I was so grateful for the "angels" who helped me get by just a little bit longer. If my little bit of help can provide a little (or enormous) relief, I am very glad to provide it.

  2. How true, Jean ... such a good point. Pain can open us to also understanding others. YOu have always been empathetic. Thanks for sharing this rich perspective.