Here in the beautiful Northwest, we have the very helpful presence of the U.S. Coast Guard. At the mouth of the Columbia River the freshwaters of the river can become quite violent when they are met by the salt waters of the Pacific Ocean. Driven by winds and rain, the channel can be torrential in its violence and sadly, each year many boats end up in trouble. Capsized or floundering in dangerous water is, I’m certain, a most frightening experience. Each year lives are lost, usually due to a lack of knowledge of these waters and their risk. When the waters are particularly violent, the Coast Guard has a line of ships which have the capability to roll over and right themselves. If your small sailboat has been tossed and turned and you end up in the water alone or with someone you care about, thrashing around for your life, it must be a great comfort to know there is a ship or a cutter that can come to your rescue in such a dramatic fashion.
If they can design and build a ship with those capabilities, then we, as human beings must have the same capability, don’t you think? For many of us, our lives have been turned upside down, we’ve been tossed about and we end up in a totally different place then we intended to be. We’ve been rolled over, tumbled and left to flounder.
HOW DO YOU GET RIGHT SIDE UP AGAIN?
Many of us have found ourselves lying on the couch after moving from the bed and that was “it” for the day. Many of us live that way for years, not just days. Each of us have to find our own way in “righting” ourselves to get back on our feet and back on the road of life. We can seek help from the “rescue ships” and sometimes from above, in the form of a “helicopter” but the bottom line for our rescue is it has to be “an inside job.”
It takes profound courage. It takes faith in the future and hope for a brighter tomorrow, as well as sniffing out just the right doctors who can offer us assurance, medical knowledge and the right tools to get back up again. Sometimes we rely on faith in a power stronger than ourselves; at other times family and often, our built-in responsibilities because we don’t want to “let down” those we love. Being needed on a daily basis can be a very good thing. Life has a way of dragging us on, forward and upward; all we have to do is hang on. Eventually, we do find dry land.
HAVE YOU EVER HAD THE HOUSE FALL ON TOP OF YOU?
Do you ever feel like the wicked witch from the WIZARD OF OZ? Oh, come on. I’m sure you have at one time or other felt like all that was left of you were two legs in striped stockings, sticking out from a house that has fallen on you. No? Then you are very fortunate.
I know this may sound strange, but there is something profoundly empowering about being on your last leg, down to your last straw and yes, having the house fall down on top of you. My goodness, so much violence with boats turning over; houses falling on top of us and many other analogies that may come to mind but life can really suck sometimes. Life is not for the feint hearted. Those are the times you indeed need to tie a knot in the end of your rope and hang on. You hang on for your life, for the lives of those who love you and for the life you have yet to live. It’s not completed you know, just because you have received a diagnosis of a painful disease you have to live with. It’s not over when your life is upturned, disrupted or maimed. How much life does it take to be alive? How much air does it take for one breath? How much water does it take to get wet? Hold on, hold on.
WHEN IS ENOUGH, ENOUGH?
This is a question that often arises among all of us who lead this lifestyle when we’ve suffered enough; experienced enough fatigue and look heavenward and shout, “Enough already!”
It’s a shame this isn’t a video because that last idea should be animated, with arms flailing in the air and uttered with an extremely hostile growl from deep within. We could jump in the air, lift furniture and toss it and put a fist through the wall but, that all takes too much effort and most importantly, it would hurt those parts of us which already hurt. Too bad though, that all sounds insanely therapeutic.
After almost 30 years of living with pain I can’t even count all the times I’ve uttered that phrase, enough already. To whom am I speaking? Well, it varies, so let’s see; there’s God, the Force, the wall, myself, all my dead relatives, half of my living relatives and often, the dogs. It’s okay because I don’t think the dogs are speaking back to me, but some of the others, well, maybe.
I spent, wasted and supposedly learned a great deal during the gnashing of the first few years I was ill. I couldn’t believe what my body was experiencing. Just the dire thought of living this way for the rest of my life was truly enough. I felt cheated, betrayed and deeply depressed. Unlike some people, I didn’t ever think it was a kind of punishment for anything I had done. I just don’t think that way. I always believed there were answers for me out there, somewhere, as well as a multi-changing purpose. I also never thought of doing away with myself for more than 30 seconds because of my faith and because of my love for my family. I’ve decided it takes far more courage to live than to die.
We all know there are two kinds of misery: physical and mental and both are usually accompanied by deep fatigue. That fatigue can pull you down and roll you around. It can zap life of all joy, make your daily needs impossible to fulfill and cause your behavior to be so bad you don’t even want to be in the same room with yourself.
We’re only human and can strike out in our frustration to those around us. Is this fair, of course not, but like a wet dog shaking off his moisture we often shake our aggravation just to be rid of it. This is unproductive but we don’t really care at the time we’re all wet. This act only isolates us further, but again, we don’t care. That’s when it is time to go back to the doctor, find a new doctor or if that fails to give you answers, it may be time to seek counseling. This life with chronic pain steals life, joy and productivity from us.
We’re in a battle for our lives and we have to win. With the help of a wonderful PCP, I have always found a tiny door to open on that infamous wall. It’s vital that we do not give up the search. It’s tempting, I know, but there are answers. It may be a different type of medicine. It may be physical therapy consultation. It may be a change of diet. Keep searching because there is no reverse in life, only forward. Maybe we can’t be who we were but we can be someone new. There is always intrinsic healing within us. There are times we may need help to find it. The train has already left the station and you and I are already onboard. Don’t we want the destination to be as joyful, fruitful and as pain free as possible? That may require us to think in new ways and discover new pathways.
There are certain qualities which I have found helpful when I feel myself drowning in the depths of “enough.” Although I believe we each have very individual answers to find in this search, some of these solutions are universal. Just a few of these are a deep sense of purpose within ourselves that tells us we have something to do, a talent we know we possess and need to use, or someone who needs us in their lives. For those we love we often climb stairs, hang in there with a job and let life pull us along even if it does hurt our hands, our knees or in my case, my sitter as well. A purposeless life isn’t really living, is it?
A GOOD SENSE OF HUMOR WILL GET YOU THROUGH THE ROUGHEST DAYS
I believe each of us comes to a point in physical suffering when we feel we cannot go on any longer; but we do. We fall asleep, or just fall down; we swallow a pill, cry until we’re dry or many other ways of coping. When we hit that wall, it’s very personal. Everyone copes differently but the ones who use humor are the survivors. I’ve seen grown adults with a broken toe who think it’s the end of the world and others who were in traction after a devastating accident and strung up like laundry on a clothesline in dire pain still manage a laugh or two.
If you’ve ever been hospitalized it is the workers and medical personnel who made you smile who still live on in your memory. Individuals who can make you laugh are pure sunshine in the form of caring and loving humans. Often they take a different form that isn’t human. Any of us who live with pets know this is true. Their antics bring buckets of joy to a dry heart.
If you haven’t read the writings of the late Norman Cousins, you should. He writes about the therapeutic use of humor with chronic pain. He made quite a study of the healing effects of laughter on chronic illness.
Look for joy while you are seeking the best medical care possible. Open those closed curtains or shade, throw a ball for the dog or go outside and pick a flower from that plant you forgot to water. Enough is enough in our limited view but life still goes on and instead of being a dead end, it is just a layover or perhaps a detour while we see another way to go. It is said the Chinese symbol for misfortune is the same symbol as the one for opportunity. I hope it’s true because it’s such a lovely, healthy thought.
I would like to challenge you, my friends, to wait until your boat rolls over; take a deep breath, hang on and it will right itself. In many of the old movies they used to portray dream sequences by showing a series of doors opening. You would walk through one door to find another and another. In many ways that is our life with chronic pain. Closed doors do open; there is always another door to go through. This experience is a conversion of sorts. Can you find it in your heart and spirit to embrace the new you? I understand so fully what I’m asking but I also know it is the only way out.