Pain is an inevitable
part of life. In living with a chronic illness or chronic pain, pain
is no stranger to us and we are likely to endure more than the average
person may endure. Much of the pain that we experience can’t be eliminated
or treated, so we have no choice but to learn to live with it. In
my struggle to learn how to do this and to still find meaning and
purpose in life I have learned many things and developed a new relationship
with my pain.
As a mental
health professional and a person who lives with chemical sensitivity,
fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, I deal with a great deal
of pain daily. In my own exploration of pain, and in my professional
experience, I have found there are several intertwined levels of
pain: the physical level, the emotional/psychological and the spiritual
level. Severe physical pain is likely to cause emotional distress
as one struggles to cope with feelings of loss, grief and anger associated
with diminished abilities or changes in lifestyle or identity. In
forming a new identity that includes being ill, one may struggle
with the spiritual pain of existential aloneness. Questions such
as “Why me? And “What is the purpose of my life now?” may arise.
I endure excruciating
pressure, aching and pinching in my muscles, joints, bones, and head
and I live with excessive fatigue and weakness. I have chronic headaches,
which frequently turn into migraines. I have severe aching and stabbing
pains throughout my gastrointestinal system and in my internal organs.
I also have a great deal of grief and loss in response to the limits
the illness imposes on me.
I have to completely avoid common everyday chemicals such as perfumes,
air fresheners, pesticides, scented laundry products, and disinfectants.
In avoiding these substances this means that I must also avoid people
who may have these odors on their person. A large part of my life
is spent alone at home or doing outdoor activities like walking or
country rides. Even so, I have to be careful to avoid lawn chemicals
or pollutants in the air. It is particularly painful and frustrating
to be prevented from participating in life as fully as I would like.
There is no
doubt that pain on any level is unpleasant and disrupting. It is
only natural that our first response to it is to want to eliminate
it as quickly as possible with whatever means are available. But
I think there is a problem with how we are taught to view and deal
with pain. Our culture teaches that pain is bad, unnecessary and
should be quickly eliminated. If we are not successful at eradicating
our pain we are viewed as weak or malingering. If we are in pain,
then we (or our doctors or medical science in general) have somehow
failed. The message in our society is that we should not feel. We
are bombarded from advertising, media, medical authorities, etc.
That we should never let ourselves feel any pain. The promise of
pain relief is everywhere. If we have a headache or stomachache or
muscle aches, or if we feel sad, lonely, anxious, depressed or shy
we should take a pill that will fix the symptom or feeling. And then
we wonder why one of our largest problems in society today is addiction.
This attitude actively promotes addiction. We are obsessed in finding
and providing quick fixes and quick relief from every little ache,
twinge, pain, grief or discomfort.
In the reality
of my life, I have found there are no quick fixes and pain generally
cannot be completely removed or controlled. Nor should it be. Some
pain is necessary and serves a purpose as a messenger. We must often
learn to live with pain effectively and listen to it rather than
always trying to medicate it away. Although I do not subscribe to
the popular New Age belief that everything happens for a reason,
I do believe that we can take a very painful experience and make
meaning out of it. In spite of the suffering illness may impose on
our lives it may also help us to change, grow and learn. My illness
has challenged me to redefine my identity, my values and my priorities,
which led me to find deeper meaning in life. I have also found a
strong connection to nature.
The body is
very wise. We need to honor this wisdom because sometimes pain can
be a signal that we need to change something in our diet, environment,
lifestyle or our relationships. In this way, pain can be a great
motivator. If we listen closely to our pain and pay attention to
our body and our states of mind, our discoveries may guide us to
what we need to do to reduce our pain.
I have found
that some of my own muscle and joint pains, as well as depression
and anxiety, have been triggered or made worse by food allergies,
certain chemicals and by nutritional deficiencies. I eliminated wheat
and refined white sugar and became free of the anxiety attacks and
severe depression that crippled me since my teenage years. By correcting
a magnesium deficiency, I reduced chronic muscle pain by half. My
pain has also taught me to become more outspoken and expressive,
to get more sleep, to exercise according to my needs and to decrease
stress. Pain has taught me to live more consciously within my limits.
Some pain should
never be limited or eliminated too quickly, even if it may feel overwhelming.
The loss of a relationship or death of a loved one as well as the
loss and grief one experiences living with chronic illness should
be felt fully and mourned. The pain should run it’s natural course,
otherwise it may cause difficulties later.
Then there is
the insidious kind of pain that seems to have no message or purpose.
Or by the time we realize what the message or purpose is, there is
already permanent damage done to the body. It is often excruciating,
disruptive and untreatable. For this category of pain, I found I
must “go into it”. What does this mean? I allow myself to acknowledge
and fully experience my frustration, resentment, grief and outrage
over my suffering. I also allow myself to feel and experience the
physical pain in its entirety. I embrace it and become one with it.
I surrender to it and I flow along with it and allow it to flow through
me. I must come to accept it and learn to function within it. I must
make pain my companion rather than my enemy. I have found that if
I fully accept, rather than resist, the pain in this way then it
no longer has the same power over my life. Initially in my illnesses
I did a lot of cure chasing which eventually led me to realize that
I was wasting a lot of time, energy and money. I found that I made
more progress when I focused on learning how to live with my illness
and within my limits.
live with pain is a difficult process. It is not a recipe that is
the same for everyone. It does, however, require a commitment to
ourselves and a willingness to confront and challenge our social
conditioning. We must give ourselves permission to feel without labels,
judgments or time limits. We must let go of societies expectations
and listen to our internal wisdom. It is important to support people
in their efforts to listen to their internal wisdom and to validate
At times it
may be hard for us to hear the messages carried in our pain or to
appreciate them because the pain is too great. There may be setbacks
into old thinking patterns and we may not be able to accept, flow
and find meaning for a while. We may feel angry at our fate. All
of this is part of the natural coping process, too, and it needs
to be felt and respected. In no way does the fact that pain carries
valuable messages for us minimize the frustration and suffering one
endures, but I believe it is possible and necessary to honor both
the wisdom received and the suffering.
Perkins, M.Ed. is a holistic health counselor specializing in
issues of living with chronic illness, chronic pain and disability
as well as sexual intimacy. She is also author of the inspirational
E-Book “Finding Life Fulfillment when Living with Chronic Illness-A
Ebooks and a FREE Newsletter can be found at her website. http://www.holistichelp.net/
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