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My Journey of Emotional Recovery From Chronic Pain

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

My chronic pain went from bad to worse, much worse, about five years ago. For the first few years, I hoped for a turnaround and pursued the usual avenues of treatment, conventional and alternative. But when it became clear this pain wasn’t going anywhere soon, I fell into an abyss of anxiety and depression.

Although I don’t believe I was at any real risk of suicide, ideation was relentless for a year or so. In retrospect, I see that this was a coping mechanism, albeit not the healthiest one. Feeling that there was an “out” gave me some illusion of control, of not being utterly trapped in a life that seemed to be endless torment. It gave me the will to get through another day. It was comfort in a very dark place.

I then moved from actively fantasizing about suicide to just passively wishing I would die. Perhaps heart failure or a fast-moving cancer would take me out of this.

The next stage was stoicism. I accepted that, being in my early 50s, I could well live another 30 or 40 years, and though I would be in pain and unhappy, I could and would endure it. I viewed living as a duty. I relinquished any hope for personal happiness, but reminded myself that my cat and husband needed me. From a spiritual perspective, I also came to feel it was important to walk this path that God had laid out for me, however much it wasn’t to my liking.

Eventually, a little light seeped in. I had been too unhappy to appreciate the blessings in my life, and this grief was then compounded by guilt. But slowly the good things in my life began to give comfort, even joy. The enormous shadow cast by chronic pain upon my psyche and soul was diminishing. It no longer blocked out all the light.

This emotional recovery has been despite myself. I had not made the effort to feel better because I did not believe it possible. At best, I imagined I could adopt a facade, but that I’d never truly feel OK. Now I see this isn’t true. I am significantly more at peace than I was a few years ago. And having experienced this organic process of healing, it occurs to me that perhaps I can
participate more actively in moving it along, gently coaxing myself toward a place of greater equanimity.

This is a relief, to have discovered a small ambit of control. I don’t know how much can be achieved. I can’t imagine, for example, embracing this pain as pure blessing. Perhaps some day that summit will be within sight. But for now, I will aim for equanimity – both toward the pain and my prospects of recovery.

So I have sought to identify those factors which brought me from suicidal
despair to passive death wish, to a duty to live, and to my current state of a tentative, qualified pleasure in life. All this resulted not from any lessening of the pain, but from a shift in focus and values.

When looking and feeling good were a priority, their loss caused grief. But I came to recognize that looks and health are fleeting, even when we’re fortunate, and cannot be the foundation of inner peace.

My concept of what it means to be useful has changed. Busyness and multitasking made me feel useful, but much of that was just distraction, puttering or overdoing things – often enjoyable – but not necessarily efficient. A slower paced life can be equally productive. I consider my meditation, prayers and writing to be of service. I am also less of a consumer these days, as I shop, eat out and travel less. This can only help the world.

I have learned new ways to enjoy down time. My attention span has lengthened so that I can enjoy online talks, documentaries, movies and reading. I move less, but am learning more.

I also love more, something we can all do, regardless of circumstances. My husband and cat get more cuddles these days. I am a more attentive, empathetic friend. And as my focus has shifted off myself, I take more pleasure in the happiness of others.

I practice gratitude. I consider three things at the end of each day that went well or that I appreciate.

The greatest shift in my outlook has come through spiritual exploration. When I viewed this life as the sum of my existence, to have it marred by constant pain was felt as a tremendous loss. But now I see this life as just a small part of my soul’s journey, a blink in the greater scheme of things. This puts the fate of this physical body into perspective, and gives me faith that someday this pain will end. Perhaps not in this lifetime, but I will experience the joy of health again, or perhaps I’ll be free of a body and its needs. But for now, this is my path, and I trust that it has purpose and meaning.

So these are the new values and perspectives I will now actively seek to nurture and strengthen. Life is not about appearance, health or achievement. It is not about avoiding hardship. For me, it is about learning, loving and serving others, and embracing the soul’s adventure.

Emotional recovery is a slow, nonlinear process; patience is required. But I am encouraged, having noticed the healing that has already occurred. Now it feels good to take a more participatory role, and regardless of the results, I’ll  know that I’ve done what I could to bring a little more light into this life, and hopefully, to the world.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Photo via ChrisMajors on Getty Images

Originally published: January 19, 2018
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