Pain is a great teacher, it continues to teach me about myself. It sucks and I am ready for it to leave. When I was a toddler I started to get migraines, I would scream my head off until I was exhausted and fell asleep. The first migraine I had was when I was five, I remember screaming so loudly. I was in a dark room and a soft bed but I kept screaming and screaming. Then there came this thought, maybe screaming makes it worse?
I stopped. I got really quiet and noticed that the pain changed, and I still wanted to scream. This was the moment that I made the decision it is better to be quiet about pain. Which makes sense with migraines that are aggravated by noise, lights, etc... This does not make sense with other pain, and yet as I reflect on my life pain needed to hit some exterme threshold before I will communicate with another person about it. (I used to pass out because of my menstrual cramps, and it still took years for me to say something other than "I have bad cramps.")
Fast forward 32 years and I am uncomfortable communicating with others about pain. I am uncomfortable asking for help, I don't want to say a treatment isn't working or it isn't enough. I have no competence and I feel a little silly having to learn this skill as an adult. It means I fall down a lot, it means that I will cry and ask Adam to hold me and then shrink away.
For me and for everyone out there in some sort of pain, it is nothing to be ashamed of. There is nothing wrong with telling someone you are hurting, nothing wrong with asking for a hug or for everyone to slow down and walk slower. Yes it is stepping into an uncomfortable zone and you never know how someone will respond. Control you; speak up.
Question of the day: What is a skill that you are learning as an adult? What do you believe should come "naturally" that doesn't?
Wednesday, July 18, 2018
I was recently talking to someone and they told me that I over identified with my pain, that my desire to communicate it was just a way of feeding the pain and make it bigger. It is a terrible thing to hear from someone that your illness is your fault, which is how my inner critic took the message. Maybe she is right or maybe I need to find some way to communicate this hurt, to be able to really look at it and let it go.
Recently things took a turning point and I am struggling to hide the physical pain. My walking has become unsteady and unpredictable, it is embarrassing and inconvenient. Right now, I have no idea what the future holds except a trip to see another doctor.
Instead of me sitting down to a cup of tea and describing in detail what the pain feels like, let me tell you what I am grieving, what I have lost. It might be a temporary loss or it might be a permanent loss, the grief is there.
I have lost confidence and trust in my body. Yesterday I needed to stand up in front of some people and I have to admit I was holding my breath as I stood. I didn’t know what was going to happen. Every weekend, Adam has wanted to take me to the butterfly section of the museum here (my happy place) and I refuse because there are stairs. This lack of confidence filters in to making plans, into cancelling plans and also means I spend a lot of time telling myself just one more step.
I lost my position in my chaplain residency, I don’t get to finish with the rest of my class. I didn’t get a chance to complete a unit of study I was very interested in and it means I will need to complete that unit in a different way if I chose. I lost seeing my coworkers and patients. I lost the regular routine of talking, laughing, smiling and crying with people.
I have lost connection with many of my friends. This is partly because I am not able to be as social, partly because I have developed weird coping mechanisms. I close my eyes a lot in conversation, because I am so hypersensitive. This means I miss a lot of the components of nonverbal communication but is also can appear that I am not listening.
I have lost that relaxed and carefree feeling that used to come with being outside and in nature. I do my best everyday to walk down to the bayou and just stand with the trees and watch the water. I enjoy it, but I am constantly thinking about getting back home. Nature has turned into a practice, to return to it.
I have lost so many illusions about what will keep me safe. This is a really painful thing to revisit, this ties into my belief of God. This has lead me to ask a lot of questions about what “safe” even is. This is the loss that has a lot of anger around it right now and is clearly a very complicated knot to unravel.
I mention my beliefs, and one of my beliefs is that good will come out of this. This belief is getting tested and pushed but I continue looking. My experience has been that there is so much to be grateful for and that these things unfold in miraculous ways, so I continue pointing my arrow at that compass. I am a pretty complex creature I can feel both the grief and the gratitude. In fact, writing down those griefs allowed me to soften. I am very tempted to share the things I am grateful for, the lessons that I have received. However, what if I just pause, pause with that grief and pain and allow it to soften more? Grief and pain are not bad and I could use a whole lot more softness in my life.
Question of the day: Where do you need softness in your life?
Monday, July 9, 2018
Today is a really rough day, that word rough can have so many different usages. Let me tell you what that means today, let me tell you about the demon that rears its ugly head sometimes. Physically I have little energy, the pain has been high, there has been a lot of loss of function and I am tired. But all of that is minor compared to the lies my mind will tell.
Today I woke up to listening to my body scream and shout in protest, the past few days it has felt like my emotional body is just locked in that paralyzed scream. I take breaths to feel that, it is all I can do at this point. I make my juice, use my inversion table and do some quick physical therapy exercises. The mind starts jabbering, it tells me this is not going to get better. It tells me that if it was going to get better I would’ve figured it out. It twists what my loving friends and family have told me into painful daggers to back up the point that I am simply a burden. That I need to push harder. But there is nothing left.
Yes, I can change my focus, but there is something here that needs to be felt. This hopelessness, the fact that right now I do not know what is going on, that doctors are making guesses and that healing works on a different timeline. There is impatience, frustration and betrayal. So, I breathe with it, I cry, I go out into the world and put on my smile; but when I come home I am left with these feelings. Just these feelings that are completely understandable. There is no demon, there is a pattern of pushing, negative self-talk and ugliness that has gotten me through so much in my life; but that is not the pattern that is needed.
What is needed? I don’t know, I don’t know the tool yet. I stay with my breath, I stay with that fear and dread. This is a rough day. To just stay with the breath, one foot in front of the other.
I am relistening to a book called Warbreaker and one of the features of the world is that the Gods of this world have one divine breath that they can gift to someone to heal them. They spend their days listening to petitions from the city, looking at art and being spoiled by servants. But there is a day that comes that they give up their breath, they heal someone and die. There is the part of me that thinks how beautiful, if I could just find the right God or deity to hear my case I could be healed with the snap of my fingers. But I continue to dig deeper into this idea of divine breath, healing breath and as I follow my inhales and my exhales I use this story. I use this story to inspire me that my breath will continue to give me life and allow me to open and receive.
Monday, July 2, 2018
I open my eyes and my body is heavy, I can feel the burning and tingling of my nerves and I just want to go back to bed. I toss and turn for a little while trying to find a comfortable position until my alarm goes off, but eventually I just get out of bed.
I am reminded of a backpacking, carrying the weight of the backpack, pushing the body to get to the next campsite. Those moments when the legs are so tired it takes intense concentration to move. When the only thought becomes just take the next step, that is how I feel this morning. Except there is no backpack on my back and I haven’t been hiking ten miles. I slowly cut up my celery to make my juice, send Adam a good morning text and measure out herbs for my tea.
I share with Adam that I was upset about something, that I still felt misunderstood. That is a so difficult to explain to people that do not see me on a daily basis to understand how it feels to be in my skin. How much intense mental work it can take to keep moving, to put on foot in front of the other. I feel more at home in my aqua aerobics class, where it is common before class to hear the woman talking about how much work it takes to simply get out the door. Where I am not the only one that grips the handrail for dear life walking up and down the ramp to get into the pool.
I know I am a mystery to these woman. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I just said “I’m recovering from a nervous breakdown.” But instead I tell them that I am a chaplain and I listen to their stories. I listen to them share with me some of their griefs and triumphs, their goals and hopes. I reflect back to them what I hear, and the whole time I am thinking “it can get better.”
But what if it doesn’t? These woman also remind me of the bruises and permanent changes that can occur and that meaning and purpose can still be found. They remind me to continue to smile gently, that maybe no one needs to understand me. However to heal I need to understand me, I want to share with other people that feel alone what I am going through. I feel alone a lot of the time, I feel misunderstood and invisible.
During my aqua aerobics class I notice the tension in my body, I notice the limited movements and even the times that my brain can’t figure out the movements. But I move, I relax more in the water because falling doesn’t have the same dangers. I am gentle with myself (really) and just notice. I do my best.
But my heart is weary, tomorrow is my birthday and I expected to be celebrating with my fellow residents at the hospital. When I am home I start searching for a prayer. A prayer that helps me communicate with the divine what I want in this moment. My spirit feels weary, scattered and it is difficult to summon. I continue to search, and I remember something I learned from one of my patients who was Muslim. He said that when the spirit is perturbed, that he has a prayer. He shared it with me and translated a small part. “May my heart be rooted in Your Way.”
I sat with those words. To root my heart in Your Way, not my way, not my timing; but asking for that root and stability in this chaos. To surrender to what is, to grieve and to allow the path to continue to be revealed. To uncover the foundation that is still there. To pay attention to the people in my life that offer me that peace of being where I am, to accept those unseen forces that offer me rest and respite. It is a small phrase that can be unpacked many ways.
Question of the day: What prayer are you searching for today?
Sunday, July 1, 2018
I have been asked many times, “what is your secret?” People want to know how to handle pain, but the truth is very few people have ever seen how I deal with pain. When it crosses a threshold I retreat, as most humans do. I have seen that retreat as weakness. You see I walk around assuming that everyone else is in as much pain as I am, and they handle it better. (This might sound crazy to you, but it is more about how I experience the world. I experience the world through a filter of pain and I am just doing my best.)
Last night Adam and I were at dinner, and he said something interesting. He said there is no way to quantify how much pain someone is in. He said maybe I need to consider how my pain affects my life. He said “I hurt a lot from my training, but I have never been in so much pain I couldn’t walk, that I passed out, I have never even had to consider if I could go to work because of the pain I was in.” I really wanted to take this as proof that I was weak, he said he was in pain and he has no difficulty handling adulting.
However, I paused and really considered what he is saying. He was saying that the things I deal with daily because of my pain are things he has never experienced. He was saying that I ask questions daily that he doesn’t even have to answer. Even with all of that I have this little shame gremlin about my health and the pain.
I feel shame about the tools I use to help control the pain and help me function yoga, massages, acupuncture, herbs, medications, aqua aerobics, meditation and different hypnotic techniques. I feel shame when I need to rest, when I need to ask for a ride, or when I cancel plans at the last minute. I feel shame that I need to rely on these tools to function, that nothing has “fixed” me yet. Because this society would have me believe that I am doing something wrong, that I am wrong.
I retreat and stay silent. I smile and nod, I do my best to put some sort of upward spin on my situation. Because deep down, really deep down I know that I am okay, I know there is a reason and purpose to all of this but that doesn’t take away the pain. The pain is there and needs to be listened to and taken care of. The pain ebbs and flows, just as all things in life do. I can see an upward trajectory, but it will go at its own pace.
Adam is right, it doesn’t really matter the scale of the pain, right now it matters that I take care of myself. It matters that I give myself permission to take care of my health and my own path.
Question of the day: What do you need to give yourself permission to do? What can you accept about yourself?
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