Lessons in Pain

These last three months have been quite challenging, and I rarely talk about it, but today I would like to share some views on dealing with physical pain.

I have had rheumatoid arthritis for about twenty years now. Usually it’s just a day or so of aching hands and swollen fingers, but this year it has been different. At the end of May, a “trapped nerve” in my hip rendered me nearly incapable of walking – even sitting was painful. After a month long recovery (and a good osteopath) we managed to work it out, only for me to experience the worst arthritic flare up I have ever experienced. This lasted nearly a month.

Painful hands, fingers so swollen, sharp aching elfshots running down the fingers. Unable to make a fist or hold a coffee cup with one hand. Hands just held on my lap, tingling, tired. Unable to write very well with a pen or pencil. Typing was difficult, but better than writing. Not sleeping due to pain.

When that flare up died down at the beginning of this month, my back then went out. Now, this too isn’t a rare occurrence – I have fallen off too many horses in my lifetime, and it’s always a weak point. But this time was different. This time the pain was so severe my legs were shaking, I felt dizzy and sick. I have a high threshold for pain, and this tested that limit.

The back is now on the mend, and I am able to sit here at my computer and type this. I can only sit for about 15 minutes – but that is better than yesterday, by a whole five minutes. Little steps.

Pain is not just a physical challenge, but a mental one as well. It can so easily lead to depression, our human minds unable to see beyond the day when the pain will ever stop. Luckily for me, right now I know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but for those whom constant pain is their life, and for whom there is no end in sight, I have the utmost sympathy and empathy. I have come to terms with the fact that as I age, this too may be my plight in life.

Pain can be a great teacher though. It can teach us of our limits. It heightens our awareness, if we are not pushing it away. Being in the moment with your pain is the last thing your mind wants to do, but may just be the best thing you can do at that moment.

Pain also teaches us to slow down. This past week I have not been able to sit upright for five days. I’ve learned a whole new way of looking at things – from a horizontal perspective. I’ve learned patience. I’ve learned the resolve needed in order to heal.

My husband set out our inflatable camping bed in the backyard on Sunday, so that I could go outside and lie down (I tried on the grass, but needed cushioning for my hip). I spent all afternoon lying on my side or on my back, underneath the beach tree that shelters my altar, communing with the tree and learning lessons of what it means to stay in one place, to be unable to move. Glorious insights, and the blessings of the world around me filled me with such awe. I always knew trees were great teachers.

The pain is now coming back, into my lower spine, and I will now be signing off, to lie down and let the muscles and spine stretch out again. Learning, listening, patience and endurance. Lessons in pain.