I live with pain, and while medications help, the pain doesn't go away. Instead, after I thank my body for working for me as well as it can, I try to recognize the social effects pain has on me, so I can deal with the consequences and make adjustments. Your experience may be different, but I want to share mine in the hope that you may find help living with pain, too.
Pain is an intruder creeping into my everyday life, standing in the middle of people, relationships, and spiritualuality. Even at the altar, enjoying communion, my shoulder stabs with pain when I lift the wafer to my mouth, intruding on my God connection. Pain even intrudes during mindful meditation and times of prayer. If I try to say prayer of thanksgiving: "Father, thank you for WHAM PAIN WHAM –now what was it that I was feeling thankful for?"
When I put a name to the consequences of pain, it puts me on notice to be patient with myself since the consequences are not my fault. I can forgive myself for wrinkles in a relationship or event. It helps, too, to remember a loving God who doesn’t mind the intrusions on our conversations.
Pain is an interrupter. Pain hits while I play a Chopin etude, and perhaps concentration is broken for the split minute when there is a key change. If I choose morphine for the pain, the resulting mind-fog can prevent me from even knowing who Chopin is, or where I stashed the music. If pain prevents me from opening the refrigerator door, it interrupts my cooking plans. If pain or the use of pain medication prevents driving my car, my plans for getting to work are interrupted. Alternate transportation may be undependable, and my excellent punctuality record is interrupted. Soon the sum total of all these small interruptions feels like an earthquake under my feet (or wheels). It helps me deal with the interruptions when I recognize the pain as the culprit instead of blaming myself when things go wrong.
Instead, I plan ahead for what I CAN do inspite of the interruptions. It takes time and practice.
Pain is an isolator. People do not like seeing me wince or groan; it makes them uneasy. When they are uneasy, I'm uneasy, and both of us are at a loss for words. Some people find it difficult to provide me comfort through the pain, because they fear saying the wrong thing, and they may find it easier to avoid me altogether. In some cases, the physical discomfort or mind-fog leads me self-isolate. At times, I need to push myself to just “be” with other people. Sometimes all it involves is taking the first step and calling someone I miss.
Pain is a source of grief. Mountains of failed treatment, interruption, isolation and intrusion pile up to assault my balance and swaddle me in sadness. At times, I don't see the grief coming. For example, the sight of a construction worker walking to the bus stop reminds me I can no longer work in the profession that I love. A musician who can no longer play may be brought to tears by a symphony. Grief over loss of abilities is authentic and healthy and it takes time to reinvent yourself or your profession.
It helps me to name the current grief, think about the effect, and then surrender the losses to God while I seek His help to find a new way forward. For me, this takes quiet thinking-time with God. I've developed a physical ritual to enact my surrender of the loss of an ability. There are many rituals that may appeal to you: snuff out a candle, throw a rock, write a poem, sharpen a pencil until it is gone, or burn up a word on a piece of paper. It's okay to cry! (It is also good to seek a support group or professional help if the sadness persists).
Pain is a thief. Pain steals away my energy for many of the non-essentials in life. I've become blind to the dirt streaks that indicate my car needs washing and I now avert my eyes instead of noticing the crumbs on the floor that I cannot pick up. I thaw instead of cook. Agreeing to accept less than perfection throws the blame game for myself and others out the window and opens the door to new ways of doing things.
Pain breeds guilt. Pain can grind feelings of guilt into almost every part of life. I may feel guiltly when I need to ask for help, when all my money goes toward medication, when pain forces me into bed instead of a family event – any activity or non-activity can become guilt ridden, and excessive apologizing all the time becomes tedious. Instead, it helps if I can accept,“What is, is.” When my loving family also accepts my limitations I am free to ditch the guilt and accept help without apology.
Sometimes replacing the guilt with gratitude can smooth the guilt wrinkles. I've always been a person that loved to help others. Instead of feeling guilty about my inactions I focus on finding joy in serving when and where I can. Helping may just be a phone call or sending a note to someone. For you, it may be singing in a choir or going into your office with a smile rather than a scowl. It's called reinvention, and I do it as the pain allows.
Pain is a party thrower. Pain is always inviting me to have a pity-party. So, when needed, I schedule a brief pity-party, and then I move on. If those of us experiencing pain aren’t careful, we can become martyrs seeking both pity and admiration for the aplomb with which we handle adversity. At this party, I try to eat the dessert of humility and push pity into the dark corner.
Pain is a teacher. Pain has forced me to call upon forces beyond what I can see. I've discovered in new ways that Jesus walks alongside me. Prayer, mindfulness, or meditation helps me sift through my desires and feel more comfortable talking to God about them. Instead of asking, “Why is this happening?” I start asking, “How can I live with it in the future?” It may not make the pain go away, but I do bask in God’s love and find new confidence that God is an important companion in my pain journey. God pauses with me when I say, “Father, thank you for…WHAM PAIN WHAM…now what was it that I was thankful for?”
Naomi Mitchum is a retired author, Christian educator and consultant in church special needs programming. For over 35 years, she has published articles, curriculum, plays, and books with a special focus of making the church an inclusive home for people with disabilities. Naomi has donated her books and other publications to ADN, and we are so thankful for these generous contributions. You can discover more about Naomi and her life’s work at http://www.naomimitchum.com/.