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How Writing Has Helped Me Cope With My Chronic Pain

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I’m from New England, so the first answer I came up with for living with chronic pain and disability was to grit my teeth and stoically carry on. Just live through it from day-to-day with as much grace and as little sourness as I could manage.

This didn’t actually solve anything, but at least it didn’t make things worse. I learned how to do very little, to stop trying so hard, and to relax a little bit more around the pain.

After several years of that, I thought: OK, I’ve been a good girl. I’ve slogged through my days as positively as possible with hardly any complaining and I’ve done everything within my capacity to heal.

So, why isn’t the pain going away? This just can’t be it. I can’t live the rest of my life like this.

I used journaling in the past to move through emotional challenges, so I thought I could write the pain out of my body.

Not very scientific, I know, but I was desperate.

Very slowly and very painfully I started writing a few sentences at a time about what it feels like to live with pain. About how pain moves in and takes over your life. About how I hated the pain in my body. About all the things I was forced to give up and the time lost to pain. I wrote scathing letters to pain, demanding to know what it thought it was doing, taking up unpaid lodgings in my body.

After several months of this I noticed something. I noticed that I felt better. I couldn’t say I’d cured myself, or that pain had left my body. Not at all. But I felt better – despite the pain.

So I kept going. Over a couple of years of writing sentence by painful sentence with large rests between, sometimes lasting several months, I filled a couple of notebooks with spider scrawl. Then I stopped, read them, and saw what I’d been through.

First, I saw the terrible pain, the loss, the grief, and the hopelessness. I saw how thoracic outlet syndrome and chronic pain had robbed me of precious activities with my son, my work-related aspirations, and my avocations. And that was very difficult to acknowledge and very sad, but it was also important to see the whole story. To witness myself, in a sense.

But, along with the many challenges, I also saw phenomenal strength, and a growing wisdom. I saw an absolute love for myself, for my son, for life, and the incredible tenacity of spirit that kept me going day after day. And that was equally important to see and acknowledge and own.

I wrote about my path with pain and through pain and saw myself in the writing. Not because I had become pain or because pain had overwhelmed who I was – but because, despite everything, I was still there. Whole and complete.

The me of me was still intact. I had been through the fire, and what was left was pure me.

That was the beginning of healing – to write honestly and deeply about my experiences and to recognize that pain couldn’t rob me of everything. It could rob me of a lot, but it couldn’t rob me of myself.

Maybe that seems like a small jewel to dig out of the muck, but I really don’t think so. I know who I am. I know what I can go through. I know how strong I am and how much I can love. I know compassion and caring and softness and resilience.

And that’s a lot.

Getty Image by 4maksym

Originally published: March 16, 2018
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