Self-pity is a lot like dog poop. They both happen, are inevitable under certain circumstances and they both certainly stink. They are a mess when you step in them. They both serve little purpose in life and don’t even make good fertilizer. They don’t promote growth; have no redeeming qualities except to generate waste. It’s hard to get rid of all the evidence as it becomes ingrained in the bottoms of your feet or shoes, continues to stink and leaves odiferous evidence in its wake. Self-pity is messy, slippery, and stinky and causes others to flee from us in herds. There are some things in life you just want to avoid, like hemorrhoids, infection of any kind and root canals. You can add to that list any condition ending in “itis.” They still occur, but we do try to step around them when possible. I think we should add self-pity to that list.
Self-pity sets others at a distance due to the “stench” and the mess it creates. It’s difficult to deal with and has to be disposed of carefully and yet, it’s always there, lurking, ready to emerge. Self-pity, like doggie do-do, when tripped upon must be handled with discretion and taste…well perhaps, there’s a better word than taste, and therefore I’ll stick with discretion. The only purpose they both seem to serve, self-pity and doggie do, is to offer release to the giver yet distress to the receiver.
Yesterday I took George, our little Yorkie in to have his nails clipped and to have the vet insert a microchip for identification in case we should ever lose him or him us. He was great about it all, amazingly so when I saw the size of the needle used to insert the microchip. He didn’t utter a groan or a growl. As soon as we placed him on the floor, he immediately told us his opinion by leaving a gigantic poop on the floor. George spoke.
There are millions of us out here, living with chronic pain. You can see we’re not by any measure alone but it certainly does feel that way. I’ve given the subject a great deal of thought over the years, both as a nurse and as a patient. I’ve seen screamers, moaners, whiners and stoics. I’ve been a couple of those myself given the right circumstances but didn’t particularly care for either one. I’ll let you guess which ones I tried and found unsatisfying. When you’re stuck with the daily reality of chronic pain, whether it’s joint pain, headaches or muscle spasms, it is all you feel. There are many types of pain but your pain is the only one with which you can be on intimate terms. It’s yours and yours alone. Feeling lucky?
How do you feel when other sufferers who are filled with self-pity approach you? If you’re a good soul, you can try to empathize with another who is in pain but can you really feel what they feel? You can compare miseries, but it’s a sort of unsatisfying, weird contest without any winners. You can sympathize but it’s such a shallow gesture and is not one of my favorite emotions. Sympathy is really just a ten cent greeting card to say you did something. I know, I know, there are no ten cent greeting cards any longer but it’s the metaphor I was searching to find. Now empathy is an improvement over sympathy, especially if you have now or have ever had chronic pain. As good as the effort appears to be, sympathy and empathy do not heal self-pity. That has to heal from within.
Most folks don’t realize how different chronic pain is from temporary pain or discomfort. It’s exhausting and exasperating. For isolated, temporary or transitional pain you are encouraged to take pain pills. For chronic pain, you are usually discouraged. Everyone is afraid you’ll become addicted. For temporary pain you get attention, expensive get well cards and sympathy but that’s because it’s short-lived. It hurts just as much but it carries a measure of hope because it will heal, end or go away. Chronic pain just sticks around like a bad dinner, indigestion and those pesky relatives that arrive for extended visits. They are two entirely different experiences and need to be handled differently. The long term scope of a life with chronic pain requires more understanding if you are to keep it from taking over your entire life. It has a tendency to do that.
First of all there aren’t enough words to describe what this way of life is truly like. Many of us who have suffered it for many years still recall the first shock when we are told and truly realize we will always have a certain amount of pain. To say it is a shock is an understatement. For me it came on gradually after 13 doctors couldn’t tell me what was wrong and three years passed when I couldn’t shake the pain. It began to occur to me, “Well, this doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere.”
You can see I’m not a terribly quick study and kept hoping, praying and seeking. Sometimes the answer is no, sometimes it is wait and occasionally it is in the form of help. I didn’t get a definitive diagnosis for another 13 years and even now, there are doctors who are of differing opinions as to what my problems are. They are real. You can see and feel them and it has changed my life forever. One begins to slowly realize it’s here to stay so we had better make friends with it. Talking about it all the time, the usual form self-pity takes, doesn’t change a thing. Like a wolf caught in a lair, we’re tempted to metaphorically chew off our foot but then…we’d be short one foot.
Strangely, acceptance is the lock to that trap or lair. You have to move on but can’t if you’re caught in the lair of self-pity. Life beckons and still offers so much in return. Just start counting the good things in your life like your spouse, your kids or grandchildren, your pets, your yard or view, your friends, and the list goes on. There has to something you always wanted to do and can do. You may have an ability or talent you have not developed. Fool around with it. See if you like it and if you do, buy a book on the subject or take a brief class or lesson. Get up, get out and go. If you can only go onto the porch, then do it. Sit in a chair or on the steps and look around you. Life is moving on, whether you are or not. If you can drive to the store, look at all the flowers or new books. Buy your favorite dessert. Buy a small gift for someone else. If you can afford it, buy a case of soup or vegetables and take it to the local food bank. Do something outside yourself. Notice the folks at the store. Do they all look trouble free?
For most of us who live this way of life, we come to a crossroad of sorts. We become sick and disgusted by our own state and probably begin to notice others are turning a deaf ear to our complaining. However, even when others listen to us, the pain is the same unending song. That’s usually when we have to grab life by the shorts and listen to the sounds of the clock on the wall; tick, tock, tick, tock. We realize these are our years, months and weeks which comprise our lives. This is it. This may be as good as it’s going to get. We need to reconcile and decide to enjoy life on these terms, enjoy and love others and learn to shut up. If enjoy is too big a leap, try tolerance and endurance as you continue to look around at life happening all around you. And whatever you do; watch where you’re stepping.