The Love Letter I Wrote to My Chronic Pain
Why is it so challenging to show compassion to ourselves? We typically associate compassion with supporting a loved one or someone who needs our help and love. But what about ourselves? Why do we sometimes cringe at the thought of showing up in a compassionate way for our own bodies?
Compassion comes from the Latin word compati, which means “to suffer with.” The act of suffering with someone makes me think of the difficult time when I witnessed my father pass away after a short but courageous illness with cancer. The opportunity to help care for him during his sickness was heartbreaking, but it also brought me to a place where I understood the true meaning of unconditional love. At first, when I reflected on his death shortly after he passed, I focused on so much of the negative that comes with loss. It wasn’t until I shifted my perspective that I was able to see how much strength had come from it. I realize the death of my father allowed me to find gratitude, strength and compassion.
I know it’s somewhat of a challenge to practice the same compassionate care with ourselves that we do with a friend or family member. So often our society, and the expectations we imagine others place on us, can make us feel like taking the time to be compassionate to ourselves just means that we are selfish navel-gazers. I’d like to call bullsh*t on that idea. If more members of our society took the time to show compassion to their own body and spirit, I believe our communities would be healthier, more resilient and more nurturing. I believe the practice of self-compassion can be helpful in developing resilience and honing healthy coping and decision-making strategies, as well as reducing the frequency of negative thoughts and feelings.
It can be particularly difficult for those of us who are living with pain to feel love towards ourselves, because pain can overtake the feelings of pleasure, safety and calm. Adding to that, people with pain may also feel like they are helpless and nothing they do will make a difference. This is when I think that we need some self-compassion the most.
That’s why I decided to write myself a love letter. Actually, I wrote a love letter to the chronic pain that lives with me. I know my body, mind and spirit have dealt with a lot, and chronic pain — despite its best efforts to bring me down indefinitely — has taught me so much and helped me grow. I hope that by showing chronic pain some love and compassion, I’ll feel more peaceful and comfortable in my body.
Here it is:
I love how much I have learned about myself since you showed up 10 years ago.
I love how I’ve realized that even though you showed up uninvited and try your best to make me mad, ashamed and lonely, I’ve learned to find ways around you. I’ve stopped feeling guilty when I need to let myself rest because you’re bothering me. I’ve identified things that make me feel good and like my authentic self, so I do them often.
Because of you, I am more committed to taking care of myself and being gentle with myself, so you can’t bring me down more than you already have.
Because of you, I now know there is a place within me that you can’t hurt. This is my safe, peaceful, joyful place where I feel healthy, strong and vibrant. I meditate on this place and it helps ease the pain and suffering you bring.
I’m more aware of my body and how my thoughts and actions manifest within it. I pay more attention to speaking positive truths about myself than negative narratives that don’t serve me.
Before you came into my life, I thought I knew what it meant to be a good friend, but I don’t think I really did. Living with you has taught me about true struggle and what it takes to overcome something as big and challenging as you. It’s taught me empathy and how to be more compassionate to others who are also suffering and struggling with their own obstacles. You’ve taught me how to be a better friend and a more active listener. I’m now more capable of being there for the people I love.
Before you and I met, I rarely asked for help. Instead, I liked to be the person who provided support but never needed to ask for it. A lot of that has changed now. I still enjoy being there for the people I love, but I now know that the kind of support I provide is different than what it was before. I’m also not afraid to ask for help because sometimes there are things I just can’t do without causing you to react and make me feel worse. I realize I need to take more time to do things than I did before you came along, and I know my loved ones would rather help me with certain tasks than risk my health and well-being. I appreciate their help more than I ever did.
I love that you opened me up to better see your adversaries: joy, vitality, peace and comfort. Now, I’m better positioned to greet them with open arms and call on them during my most difficult moments.
I love that you remind me how strong, resilient and badass I really am.
I love that you can’t ruin me, no matter how hard it gets and how many challenges you throw in my path.
Most of all, I love that even though you’re here, you don’t define me. I’m me. You’re you. Sure, I’ll always carry the experiences we share and everything I’ve learned from you, but I find peace and strength in knowing that no matter what, you’ll never be me and I will never be you.
I encourage you to draft a letter to the pain or illness with which you live. In doing so, I believe you can reframe the experience of living with pain so that it becomes one of resilience, strength and wisdom. I think caring for yourself is easier than you think; it starts with turning towards yourself and sending a love letter to the parts that hurt. Hold yourself up and remember that you’re doing the best you can.
A version of this blog was originally published on Elephant Journal.
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