“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
This article is a long time in coming.
As many of you know, I suffer from severe, almost daily migraine pain that has made my life extremely difficult to live at times.
Chronic pain does everything from suck up any good time you have in between sleeps to driving you to near madness with the frustration of not being able to overcome it.
But there are some things you – the healthier human (for now) – may not have thought of with respect to those living under the weight of frequent, unbearable pain:
1. HOW ALONE WE FEEL
Pain is a funny thing (okay, it’s not) in that when it invades your life and refuses to let go, there is no amount of comfort offered, no amount of encouraging bible verses available, no amount of sympathetic words from your loved ones that can make you feel any less alone in your suffering.
It doesn’t matter that there are hundreds of thousands of people going through what you go through every day. There is this overwhelming aloneness that seems to invade your mental space and press in around you. Though those of us with faith know that we never are alone in our pain, it doesn’t change how we feel when we’re in its oppressive grip.
I am blessed beyond measure, having a wife who so kindly and gently offers to massage my scalp or say, “Poor Ba”, when I am groaning in agony. I cannot express my gratefulness enough for her presence, love and co-endurance when I go through the more intense periods of suffering, especially. But even she, the love of my life, cannot step inside my soul to massage away the isolation chronic pain causes. It’s just the nature of the beast.
All I can do is work through it and continue to remind myself that I’m ‘alone, but not alone’ (as Joni Erickson-Tada’s new song proclaims) and force myself to remember that I will come through the storm and feel connection once again on the other side of it.
2. COMORBID DEPRESSION
What the heck is comorbid depression? Well it’s the all too familiar sidekick to anyone going through chronic pain.
You see, when pain encompasses so much of your life, time, personal dealings, conversation and whatever, you start to realize that you are not like everyone else around you. You’re less productive, you are a burden to your loved ones and society, you cancel out on get-togethers with family or friends and worst of all, you watch time pass you by extremely quickly. Another year gone and you’ve done what? Nothing much (or so it feels). So there’s THAT collective of thoughts or mental meanderings that get depression festering nicely.
But then there’s the physical aspect of it. When you’re in chronic pain, your brain/body (along with any drugs you’re taking) is doing its darndest to produce endorphins or whatever feel-good chemicals that are at its disposal to try and relieve your pain. I’m sure that they can only be stretched so far and for so long before saying, “we’re done – can’t help the dude any more – shut off the valves”. And so when you’re out of the extreme pain for any length of time, you have no feel-good chemicals left in your body or mind and you crash. You often crash really hard, in fact. I know – I’ve broken down in tears … weeping like a man at the funeral of his mother. Or I’ll sit around for hours – whole days even – doing nothing and feeling like doing nothing. It will take a good 24 hours or more sometimes before I can get into gear to accomplish anything as basic as putting dishes away or even having a shower.
3. COLLATERAL DAMAGE AND INCONVENIENCE
As already mentioned, many things have to take a back seat to the person suffering with chronic pain. Trips are cancelled. Family events are postponed again and again. Church attendance is spotty. People get sick of hearing your litany of complaints and/or symptoms because that’s all you’ve got going on at times.
In my case, I’ll be up for nights at a time – unable to sleep due to the severity of the pain. My wife often never sees me during daylight or early evening hours and when she does, I’m a hot mess.
Drugs being tried out or taken regularly can have serious or problematic side effects, supporting the old adage, ‘the cure is worse than the disease’ far too often. A ‘can’t live without ’em, can barely live with ’em’ scenario almost always prevails.
On behalf of all chronic pain sufferers everywhere, I would like to say, “We’re so sorry!” We’re sorry that we can’t be there for you – our loved ones – like we want to be. We’re sorry that we let you down time and time again, not being there for you when you need us. We’re sorry that we have cost you your time and have put a financial burden on you because of our sickness and the oft-expensive treatments and medicines needed to deal with our pain. We know that we’ve caused you your own pain. Please forgive us. If we could have it any other way, we would.
4. WE MIGHT NOT BE FIXABLE
So many souls with great intentions have come up to me and offered the name of this doctor or that product in the hope that I can finally be freed from my suffering. They will quickly go through their mental rolodexes and recount how ‘their sister’s best friend’ or ‘their mother’ had your condition and that now they are the ‘pink of health’ because of treatments A, B and C.
Letting you know now, this drives us chronic-pain folks a little nuts.
You see, unless we are guilty of Munchausen’s syndrome – pretending we’re chronically ill to get attention – you have to think that we have, by now, tried everything available thus far to make ourselves well. If we were beset by our particular ailment for only a few weeks, say, it’d be a different story. Sure – if that’s the case, throw out your best thoughts re our ailments, your home-remedies, your curative concoctions. But when we’ve suffered for years with some serious infirmity, please think twice before you offer us some solution that just popped up in a recent internet periodical or that worked for your grandmother when she had (what you think is) my particular condition.
In addition to this, I would like to address any Christians out there who think that with a good ol’ fashioned healing service that’s we’d be out of the woods – all cured ‘n hunky-dory. Sometimes prayer will not result in a person’s healing. Paul the apostle had poor vision. Timothy had some stomach ailments. I have migraines. They were not given to me as a punishment for sin nor are they continuing for lack of faith or because of something I have held back from God. Poop happens and pain can be that happenin’ poop.
That being said, YOUR PRAYERS ARE WELCOME and are very much needed and appreciated. How God deals with your prayers or mine is mysterious at best, but He is near to those who call on Him and we who walk through the valley of the shadow of death (and yes, the pain can be so bad at times that you think you will die or that you and everyone else would be better off if you did).
Christ’s cup of suffering wasn’t removed from Him when He begged heaven from the garden and yet look what He accomplished. I may never, in this life, be free from the pain that has become my life, but I tell you the truth – pain, for me, has served as a call to prayer like a minaret to a Muslim. Pain is God’s calling card, I have always stated. It’s when I’m in the deepest pain that a lot of prayers get said – especially for those around me and for others who suffer greater woes than mine. Maybe without my suffering, I would be insufferable to God and others. I think pain keeps me real in a lot of ways that are spiritually healthy, to put it simply.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t continue to pray for healing for those who are sick. Sometimes, God’s will is to see some become well via a miraculous intervention. We’ve seen that before and you’ve probably heard the stories. Don’t stop thinking God is powerful enough to do mighty things just because today you will not be seeing or receiving a miracle.
Chronic pain is a fact of some people’s lives … my life. Still, I can’t believe how blessed I am despite having this invasive force in my world. Financially, God has met our needs – exceeded them in fact. He has kept me from plunging so deep into despair that I would consider taking the easy way out of this life. The people He has placed around me are golden – from my wife, family and friends to the many, many Christian souls who remember me (and Nancy) in prayer and who care deeply for the suffering all around the world – not just me. A big THANK YOU to everyone who has taken the time to listen to my grousing and just for being there for us.
© 2014 Flagrant Regard
“I was given a thorn in my flesh … to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
St. Paul, 2nd Letter to the Corinthians, 12:9-10 (NIV Translation)
“He causes the sun to rise and shine on evil and good alike. He causes the rain to water the fields of the righteous and the fields of the sinner.”
Jesus, Gospel According to Matthew 5:45 (The Voice Translation)
“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth, you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
Jesus, Gospel According to John 16:33 (New Living Translation)