I spent the month of October in pain.  First an injury, and then an illness, each of which is particularly painful in their individual categories.  Not at all fun.  I realized how little physical pain I’ve had in my life, with gratitude and also guilt – how could I not have appreciate all those many, many days of feeling just plain fine?  I spent more days that I’d like to admit curled up in my bed, trying to work on one laptop and write on another, closing my eyes when I just couldn’t do anything but breathe through the pain.

I thought I had a high pain threshold.  After my two childbirths, I really thought I was strong.  In fact, those epidural-free deliveries were my benchmark (clearly a 10) whenever a doctor asked me to rank my pain on a scale of 1 to 10.  I was somewhere between 7 and 9, on and off, for most of October.  I’m still at 4 or 5, most days, and some much higher.

I don’t know about my pain threshold anymore.  I do know, in a way I never did before, that pain is its own country.  I have tremendous empathy for people who live with substantial pain on an ongoing basis.  Often I looked at Grace, trying to listen to what she was saying, her voice muffled by the ringing of pain in my head, feeling like I was across a moat in a different place altogether from her and my regular world.  A regular world I had never appreciated until it was stolen from me, replaced by this foreign place full of pain.  It is both exhausting and terrifying to ride the day-in, day-out ebb and flow of pain, the peaks of agony and the valleys of oh-maybe-I-am-okay-now almost-normalcy.  Every time I breathed a sigh of relief and thought, yes, finally, I’m on the road to recovery, something would flare up, and I would return to bed, eyes full of tears and heart full of fear.

It is the helplessness of it, as well as the emotional content, that shocked me the most.  I would get pulled under by a riptide of pain, unable to do anything about it.  And the incredible fear, that I had never anticipated.  I am familiar with emotional pain, in all its range, but I did not realize that physical pain carried with it a big emotional burden.  My mind would get on its hamster wheel: will this never improve?  Am I going to live like this for the rest of my life?  I can see how quickly chronic pain leads to immense depression.  I am not depressed, though: right now I am marveling, more than anything, at the power of pain.

My other observation is that pain is absolutely exhausting.  A few weeks ago I wrote about being tired, and about feeling quiet.  Some of that is surely seasonal, and the particular rhythms of my spirit and mood.  But the tiredness stuck around, persistent, thick, heavy, and I began to wonder if it was also partially caused by my pain.  Now I suspect it was (and is).  I am wading through thigh-deep snow these days, slow going, feeling spent, both emotionally and physically, more quickly than usual.

I read Kristin Noelle’s beautiful post last week with tears streaming down my face.  She writes of a harsh few months, of a demanding season, and of the release of finding herself in a soft place. These lines in particular moved me:

What if becoming (painfully, gut-wrenchingly, sometimes) aware of our fear is not always a sign that we’re far off from peace, but actually quite the opposite: a sign that we’re actually close enough to peace to start collapsing into it, to start admitting to ourselves or someone else how hard things have been?

Clearly, the ways that this last month have been difficult for me are more physical than emotional, though, as I said, there was a soul component that I had not expected.  What have this pain, and the pain’s handmaiden, fear, come to teach me?  I ask myself this over and over again, in the day and in the night, wondering, wondering.  Perhaps they are a sign, as Kristin says, that I draw ever nearer and nearer to peace.  I’d like to believe it.

Note: I believe, firmly, that both of my ailments were helped, not impeded (and certainly not caused by) the cleanse I was on.

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  1. Posted November 2, 2011 at 5:04 am | Permalink

    The things that our bodies teach us about ourselves can be quite monumental. I see that here, a new level of self-understanding. And I truly hope that all is improving for you. Having lived for many years now with Crohn’s, I do not wish any physical discomfort or struggle on anyone.

  2. Posted November 2, 2011 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    Dear Lindsey,

    I have lived in the world of pain, more on than off, for over twenty years. I’ve come to believe that it is a vehicle for change, for looking within, for clearing and for coming home to who we are. In that respect, it doesn’t surprise me at all that you are visiting now, but I know it’s not an easy journey and that it requires strength you never knew you had.

    I can’t say I am sorry, although my heart hurts for you. I can tell you that you are not alone, and that you are in good company. And that the only way out is through, and the best way out is to heed the call.

    Love to you, and peace, and ease.

  3. Kim
    Posted November 2, 2011 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    I too have been thinking of pain lately…more the emotional kind. What I realized is that for me what causes the most suffering is not so much the pain, but seeing a way out and not being able to get there. I am sure the cleanse helped. You were being proactive and that is very empowering. I too have delivered without an epidural. I call it my marathon. It was not fun, but I knew the pain would end and that made it ok. On the other end of physical pain I ended up in the ER seven months pregnant with a raging ear infection…begging for someone to make the pain stop.

  4. Posted November 2, 2011 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    i hope you are feeling much better (or at least soaking in self-care) and journeying into your vitality. with wild passion, i believe in the profound wisdom of our bodies…the sacred messages they send us (via whisper or scream) daily…encouraging us to be/become more present. my current mantra: to be fully in my body so i can be wholly in the world. love you, lindsey.

  5. Posted November 2, 2011 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Oh, so sorry to hear about what a difficult month October was. I hope you find your peace this month.

  6. Posted November 2, 2011 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    A friend of mine divorced last year after many years of marriage. She said the hardest thing was telling people and then all of a sudden everyone started opening up to her about all their marriage problems. Now, I wonder if you get to hear all about everyone’s pain now!!!!
    I wrote on pain this week, but, of course, not as eloquently as you. I love the way you express so many things. You make it universal. Thank you.

  7. Posted November 2, 2011 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Ouch. I hear how bad it hurts, and how hard you are trying to learn and grow from your pain. Here’s to hoping for the swift arrival of your liberating healing. Namaste

  8. Posted November 2, 2011 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Oh, pain is so hard. I know that place you are writing from, where you feel as if you are on another planet. I too thought natural childbirth was the worst pain, but at least there are breaks. And it ends!!! Hoping for a swift end to your pain and infinite comfort while it lasts. Sending much love and relief! xoxo

  9. Lisa May
    Posted November 2, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Lindsay, I just spent the last 6 months trapped in a pain-warp from a herniated disc and intense sciatica. After surgery (something I swore I would never do) I have my life back again. Your commentary on pain so captures my recent journey. I keep feeling like I have joined this secret society of people who all speak the same language but had to experience something awful to learn it.

    Having gotten to the other side, I feel like I have been given an amazing opportunity to re-enter life on new terms. I don’t know exactly where that will take me, but I feel blessed to have the chance to find out.

    I hope you too get to a pain-free place very soon. I really appreciate your thoughts!


  10. Posted November 2, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    I am impressed by your ability, even in the midst of your own discomfort, to have empathy for those living with chronic pain. Your post, then, is not only an insightful exploration of your own experience and a generous gesture to those who share it, but also a wake-up to those like me who live without pain and without gratitude.

  11. Posted November 2, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    at first glance, I read “soul component” as “soul competent.” You’ve got soul competence. Clearly! light xoxo

  12. Posted November 2, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    I hope November is a much better month and that you feel better and fast. A beautiful musing, as always.

  13. Margaret
    Posted November 2, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Lindsey – I know someone else mentioned it on another post – but I do hope you are seeking medical attention for your pain! There could be a simpler fix than you may realize. I wonder if your body is missing meat? I have also cut out (or significantly down on) sugar, dairy and gluten from my diet, to great results in terms of how I look/feel – but meat has remained. Only top quality, as much as possible (grass-fed, no hormones or antibiotics, etc.). Perhaps you are lacking the proper protein. Or maybe this pain has to do with your fall, or something else entirely. In any case, please seek help until you find some answers! The pain you have described makes everything and everyone around you fade into the background, while you are trying to breathe – hard to do anything else when you are dealing with that kind of pain. I hope and pray you are pain-free as soon as possible!!

    P.S. As a complete aside, I recently read some very surprising/disturbing negative information about agave. I am back to a drip of pure maple syrup if I’m looking for sweetener…

  14. Posted November 2, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    I’m so sorry to hear how difficult October has been. Wish I knew and could have sent some cheer across the miles. Here’s to a better November! xoxo

  15. Posted November 2, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    Adding my love and good wishes to this chorus of friends who wish you ease and peace. When I’m in that “pain place” I can barely function, let alone write. So it is wonderful that you can step back enough to have so much perspective on such a difficult time. Thinking of you! And may November be a gentler time.

  16. Posted November 3, 2011 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    Dear Lindsey;
    You sound exactly like I would have sounded in my 30s. But I did not have children so work was what pulled me out and made me carry on.
    The exhaustion of chronic pain is monumental and so hard because invisible. I am happy to share more thru email @ what/who has helped-I also lived as a daughter of a mother with fybromyalgia so have strong feelings about how to handle this with the children.
    Let me know if you would like to meet for tea-etc.
    Yes: not fighting That you are ill does help those times pass. IE not raging against it and trying to fix it.

  17. Posted November 3, 2011 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    I’ve known pain that I knew would end and pain that seemingly had no end. It takes so much energy to just be while you are hurting. Our bodies can teach us a lot, and pain seems like alchemy in some ways (as you seek to spend your little energy on what is golden), but none of that makes it easier. I wish you healing. Deep healing.

  18. Ari
    Posted November 4, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    I am so sorry you have been in pain. I hope you feel better soon.
    I just want to remind you a word, in case you need it. I don’t remember where I read it. “It’s not about becoming healthy. We are born healthy, our job is to keep it that way”.

  19. Posted July 9, 2012 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    I had clicked over to your most recent post because of a facebook mention by Katrina, and when I saw the post called “Pain” on the side bar, I just had to click.
    I am a voluntary amputee, having come to that decision after living a lifetime of pain and immobility from a deformed foot. Getting rid of that foot took away much of my pain. So I understand a thing or two about the subject.
    My main memory of pain always goes back to the feeling of forgetting what it felt like to feel good and normal. I’d find myself in that place of not being able to remember what good felt like.
    I have far fewer of those days now but appreciate this post anyway. I know many people who still live that life, of hoping that maybe tomorrow will be pain free.
    Thanks for this thoughtful post. I assume your daily battle with pain has finally ended by now. 🙂