But most of the time, I am in pain -- and have been for much of my life.
Currently, I have Lyme disease, and an autoimmune condition that makes me susceptible to viruses and infection. For several years, I have had almost-constant muscle and joint pain all over my body. I have chronic daily headaches, and weekly migraines that are so painful I often vomit and lose control of my bowels. There’s arthritis and degenerative disc disease in my neck and lower back, a dead bone in the middle of my ankle, blown cartilage in my knees, a partial rotator-cuff tear in my shoulder. Over the course of my life, I’ve had more than a dozen broken bones, seven surgeries requiring general anesthesia, and several under local; and all of these have left pains in their wake. It has become harder and harder for me to do bodywork in the past couple of years; and in the months leading up to the fire, I had to completely stop working at one point, because it literally hurt too much to move. And that’s just the physical stuff.
There’s also an early abuse history, with diagnosed PTSD. Plus all the inherited and programmed traumas from my parents and their families, as well my own typical human lifetime of broken hearts, tragedies, disappointments, dashed hopes, and unfulfilled dreams.
So with all this pain, why am I not curled up in a little ball, weeping all the time?
Well, pain medication helps, to an extent (if the pain isn’t too severe). But the real reason I look as good as I do, and am as functional as I am, is that that since the age of 28, when I first had to actually stop and face the existential question of “Suicide or Wellness?”, I chose Wellness. I didn’t know at the time what that meant, or what it would entail. But I committed my life then -- and continue to commit my life, day by day -- to finding out and doing whatever it takes to be well. There’s a cartoon I’ve seen a couple of times on Facebook, where a patient goes to a doctor and says, “It hurts. What should I do?” And the doctor tells the patient (approximately): “No gluten, sugar, dairy, herbicides, pesticides, additives or preservatives; drink 8 glasses of water, stretch, and get 8 hours of sleep every day, and 40 minutes of aerobic exercise every other day; limit your intake of media; get rid of your cell phone; cut down on electromagnetic radiation; get bodywork regularly; start seeing a psychotherapist; meditate; dance; find a fun hobby; think positive thoughts; and learn to love yourself and be nice to everybody. That should take care of it in about 3 months.” I do all of that stuff -- and have for years! I have done everything I could think of (and afford) to stay healthy and support the healing of my body’s underlying emotional and physiological conditions.
But since the fire, the underlying conditions have been getting the better of me, and I have been curling up in a ball and weeping. A lot. One of the shocking aspects of my life following the fire (at least, shocking to me) is that I’ve found it so hard to pull myself back together -- to “Buck up, Kid”, as my dear departed Dad would say. For some reason, the shock of the fire and the trauma of my precipitous departure from Harbin has (as my Dad would also say) “taken the wind out of my sails”. The PTSD seems back. Some of you on Facebook might have read about my recent episode at a Lowe’s hardware store. I went in to buy a tape measure and some replacement water filters, and found myself completely overwhelmed: I sat weeping on a display toilet. (A very nice Lowe’s employee, a young Caribbean-sounding man, found me and offered solace... which upset me more.) And just now, buying lunch at a local Thai restaurant, the cashier, who had kept me waiting a little longer than expected, looked deep into my eyes and gently touched the back of my hand as she gave me my change; and again, I lost it. This is typical, lately. I seem to have little confidence or reserves of strength, emotional or physical, and small things knock me off center they way they rarely would have in the past. And my physical pain is off the charts. The joint and muscle pain is constant. My headaches have gotten worse -- I vomited six times the other night. And the very idea of doing bodywork again -- of being present for another human being in support of their process and healing -- seems simply beyond possibility.
It is so very fortunate, then, that I am somewhere safe, warm, and comfortable; somewhere I can live inexpensively (thank you sister and brother-in-law!), and not have to force myself to do... anything. I’m covered for the winter. And it is both my wonderful opportunity and my focused intention, to listen and pay attention to my body’s needs and rhythms however they show up, to open deeply to intuition, write, and nurture whatever wants to come forward. (It’s also my intention to establish residence here, get health insurance, register to vote, and find a trauma group, a bodywork therapist, a regression therapist, and some like-minded and fun people to play with.)
As for intuition, I’ve been getting the clear message that my purpose for being, in this incarnation, is to heal the multiple generations of pain in both of my parents’ ancestral lines (through my own body, and my growing conscious connection to the space-memory network... again, more on unified physics in upcoming posts). And as for writing, so far, three projects have begun to coalesce (hmmm, that sounds like a lot). First is this blog, which I’m doing as a sort of healing purge, and to help me hone my knowing of what I want to say, and how I want to present it. Second is a book (an online course?) about photography (Seeing the Light: pretty pictures and how to take them easily with any camera). And third is a book about feeling (feeling unity, feeling the planet, feeling the body, feeling the energy field, feeling emotions, feeling pain, and feeling love) which I’m thinking about positioning as a guide to self-awareness, -healing, and human evolution (is that promising too much?).
And how does all of this relate to my life’s experience of pain? Directly, I think, because I wouldn’t be thinking about or doing any of it if my life hadn’t been the painful way it has been. In large measure, my life has been about pain. Certainly my professional work these past 20 years has been focused on uncovering it and supporting its release. And my personal life has been motivated, as I said (since the age of 28 -- two Saturn returns!) by my commitment to the inquiry of “What would it take to be well?”. That commitment has required me to look unflinchingly at all the unwell parts of myself -- the painful parts, especially the ones that seem “too painful to look at”: acknowledging them, supporting them, touching into them, listening to them, learning from them, and helping them to let go and heal. And if I hadn’t had all this pain to begin with -- the chronic and the acute, the emotional and the physical -- I would never have had to learn how to do that: to stay present with pain, and help it to heal. I also wouldn’t have had such great motivation and opportunity to develop my photographer’s eye, because I developed the most fundamental and important aspect of my approach to photography specifically to help me cope with the darkness of my pain: alway look for the light.
Pain sucks. Chronic pain sucks the life right out of you. It is no fun. And when pain gets really strong, it is so easy to buy into the mind’s story that pain is all there is, was, and ever will be. It hurts. It depletes all the other systems of the body. It’s boring. It’s depressing. It can keep you from doing everything else you love -- including and especially the things that bring you pleasure and relief. It can lead you down roads of crazy, including drugs and addictions and superstitions and desperate graspings at anything that offers even a small hope of relief... most seductively of all that false god suicide. It’s expensive -- any decent treatment that actually resolves pain is generally not covered by insurance; and so many of the medical treatments that are sanctioned for pain (pharmaceuticals; cutting, sawing and screwing) offer side effects that are horrible, and often far worse than the conditions they are sold to alleviate.
But when we can stop feeling sorry for ourselves for having pain, and instead learn to be with it, it can reveal another side. When we can simply offer non-judgmental, compassionate support to our pain and listen to it, it can open doorways to information and healing that is truly transformational.
And so I am with my pain: so I have been and am still learning to be. As life-paths go, it’s not one I’d wish on anybody, or care to choose again. But it is what I got for whatever reasons I got it. And here I sit, knowing what I’ve felt and learned... and beginning to perceive and envision a real possibility that something widely useful might yet come from my pain for me, my family, and everyone else.