Chronic Pain, Bane or Blessing?

Although I don’t like to talk about my chronic pain much, I recently mentioned it to my uncle, as I had to decline on yet another offer of his to join him in hiking around the Rocky Mountains. He takes these trips regularly and it’s a wonder that he is so fit for being nearly 70 years old.

I love hiking and nature and felt bad for turning him down yet again. I told him as much when he offered last week. He mentioned that when he was about my age, roughly 30 years ago, he was dealing with similar pain and was desperate for some kind of fix.

Pain and Painkillers

Like me, he was not is not a proponent of painkillers. I will take painkillers if I need to. I’m not going to suffer in agony just for the sake of personal pride; at the same time, I will not pop a pill at the first sign of pain. I prefer to understand where the pain is coming from and what natural things I might do to get rid of it.

For instance, headaches in my life are often a simple result of not enough sleep. With a good night’s sleep, I’m usually feeling much better. Then I don’t have to take a pill at all.

With this chronic pain I’ve been facing, I felt similarly. Back pain can be quite intense, but I knew there was a core reason for it, and I didn’t want to harm my body further by taking a pill to dull the pain and then damaging myself because I couldn’t feel it.

My uncle told me that his pain got so bad, he finally went to the chiropractor. Previously, he did not have much confidence in chiropractors and avoided them completely, but at this point, he didn’t have a choice.

I suppose he went to a good one because his back problems rectified. The chiropractor also gave him a set of exercises to do, which he practices religiously to this day. I believe those exercises are the main reason he has not dealt with severe back pain since that time. He said as much to me when we chatted over the phone and recommended that I find a good set of exercises and stick to them.

HSPs and Running on Inspiration

I find it a challenge to stick to pretty much anything. I know that running on inspiration can be good but it can also have its drawbacks.

I have grown accustomed to the drawbacks but I still for the most part run on inspiration. In other words, I stick with something for a week or two or maybe even 40 days, but at some point, the interest wanes and I generally find myself neglecting whatever it is I have chosen to do.

I do not know if this is common to highly sensitive people or if it is simply a weak area of mine. If it is common to highly sensitive people – running on inspiration that is – it is likely because of the fact that we put our whole minds and hearts into the things that we do and into the relationships that we carry. As such, there are only so many things we can maintain inspiration for. Beyond that, we tend to lose our focus and inspiration. And yet another aspiration falls to the ground.

But I know my uncle is right in his recommendation and I have indeed begun a series of stretches and back exercises that are gentle enough to not cause too much pain. I believe it might work to ease the pain and hopefully also strengthen my back.

Who knows? Perhaps 30 years from now, I will be contacting a younger niece nephew or niece and inviting them to scale mountains at the age of 70.

The Importance of Pain

No one likes feeling pain but I believe that we often neglect to realize just how important pain can be. Without this chronic pain, I would let another five or ten years go by in which I do not strength in my own body through regular exercise and stretches, which some people might not need, but which my body clearly does need.

The body that houses us does not have a voice, and thus it speaks to us, and quite possibly the most common medium uses to indicate danger is pain. It would do us good to stop and listen rather than to ignore it and continue on with what we are doing or mask the pain with painkillers that might control the symptoms and sensations, but not the cause.

The problem of pain is a problem, to be sure, but it is also a blessing.

I might have mentioned a book I read in a previous post by Philip Yancey and Paul Brand, Where Is God When It Hurts? about pain and its importance. Without pain, one does not feel and may end up with serious problems that they might have avoided completely if they had felt the pain of a broken finger or a bruised heel.

This is the essence of the disease of leprosy. Although someone might wish to not feel pain and think of it as a gift to have deadened senses, that is what the disease of leprosy is; not feeling pain can cause far more damage then one might imagine and even lead to fatalities, as does eventually happen with the disease of leprosy.

In Closing

Few people today if any, seek out pain. And those who do seek out physical pain are likely masking another type of pain, emotional or spiritual or mental. (That is a topic for another post.)

But although we do not seek it out, do not need to always run from it. We might learn, if we are open, the blessing of pain and not always consider it a bane.

A Philosophy of Pain

Chronic pain can make it nigh impossible to focus on anything else.

I’ve dealt with chronic pain off and on for years. Over the last several weeks, it has been particularly bothersome. Progressively so, to where for the last few days I have found it a challenge to focus my attention on other things for long periods of time.

Pain is such a strange yet centering thing.

It does not simply invite your focus. It forces your focus.

As humans, we have struggled with the problem of pain for hundreds, yea, thousands of years.

Over the past couple of hundred years particularly, our focus has been on how to minimize and if possible eradicate pain from our lives. Whether physical or emotional or mental pain, we try to escape it. Medication for the body. Medication for the mind. And so many distractions and entertainment to choose from that we may escape whatever emotional we might be facing.

In reading about the lives of past saints, I find it interesting that their reaction to pain was very different from ours. Many of them embraced pain. Some even sought it out … although the very thought to us can seem strange and even pathologically wrong.

The reason behind their seeking, however, makes some sense, even though it is not something most of us would seek out or choose to do. It goes with the idea of Christ as Suffering Servant. To embrace pain and suffering is to embrace him and to become more like him, to take on his cross of pain.

I don’t like pain, especially when it’s debilitating. I don’t like the fact that it forces my focus, especially when there are plenty of other things I want to focus on.

However, perhaps there is a purpose for pain.

There is a physiological purpose for pain, to be sure. Feeling pain indicates that something has gone wrong in the body and needs attention. 

Philip Yancey in his book, Where Is God When It Hurts, discusses the importance of pain by highlighting the plight of those with leprosy, who cannot feel pain. Without the important nerve endings, they can injure themselves without realizing it, ending up with infected injuries that can deteriorate to limbs lost simply because they did not feel the pain.

In such a case, pain is a gift. It enables a person to realize something is wrong with the body and to seek medical attention.

But what of the aches and pains that simply do not go away, that persist and turn into chronic pain? I do not know, just as I am not sure what to do with the pain that I am feeling.

Simply grin and bear it? 

Or refuse to get up in the morning on days the pain feels too intense?

Or turn it toward Christ somehow and seek His presence within it?

There are some questions we, as humanity, have asked for centuries, for millennia. There are some questions that, I believe, will not have answers this side of eternity.

But as we live within those questions, as we live the questions, perhaps we will live towards the answers we seek. 

And perhaps that is one of the purposes for pain.

Saints and Making Space

By HSP Mystic

For the next forty days, I have decided to read about and contemplate the lives of various Catholics writers and saints.

I was not raised a Catholic and would not today consider myself one, yet I find more and more that there are knowledge and wisdom to be gained from many beliefs and from people on many walks of life.

The stories and lives of certain Catholic writers and saints have interested me for several years now.

I decided there is no time like the present to begin reading about them.

More than reading, to contemplate and ponder and decide to take on some practices from their own lives for my own.

Interestingly, while looking at an online calendar for the Catholic Feast Days in 2020, the day I began my 40-day journey toward healthy living, there is no Catholic saint honored on that day.

The space is blank.

I thought it fitting, considering the focus in the posts on day one and day two on space.

One theme I have noticed in the lives of many Catholic saints and mystics is that of space. They intentionally created space in their own lives. This time they devoted to prayer or contemplation or serving others as serving Christ became a sort of medium or Way.

Through it, their lives and eyes were opened to deeper or greater or more lasting things.

This is something I wish for, something I have found at times taking place in my own life. But it always comes at a cost. And often, the cost goes against our human proclivity toward comfort and ease.

For instance, Saint Rose of Lima only slept two hours each night in order to devote more time to prayer. A tall order for someone who loves sleep, but perhaps that is why she is remembered hundreds of years after her short life.

I ask, what might I accomplish if I were to sleep two hours and spend the extra time in prayer or contemplation or service to God and mankind?

Looking Up – Attentiveness Amidst COVID-19

What will people think when they look back on this time?

COVID-19, the coronavirus, pandemic, fear, anxiety.

What do we think, we who are in the midst of it now?

COVID-19, the coronavirus, pandemic, thinking, anxiety.

I wonder if we do think about it as we should, as we might. If we consider and contemplate it enough.

It is hard, yes, because there is just so much to reflect upon, so much to think about, to process and try to understand.

And there is so much we will never understand.

COVID-19, the coronavirus, pandemic, thinking, understanding.

And there are so many conflicting messages, each message containing perhaps some truth along with a lot of fear and tension, anxiety about the future.

Perhaps the call for us at this time is to stop, even in the middle of the chaos and the conflict, to look around us … even, if possible, to step outside – mentally if nothing else – and take stock.

COVID-19, the coronavirus, looking, thinking, understanding.

What do we see when we stop scrolling an endless news feed and look up?

Yesterday I stepped outside. I looked up and saw a bird, sitting on a ledge, a strange shimmering substance in its beak. At first I thought the bird might have been searching for material to make a nest. Then it came to me that midsummer is not generally when birds build nests.

I looked closer and realized the shimmer belonged to a dragonfly’s wings. The bird had been hunting and caught a dragonfly midflight. I delight in watching dragonflies skirting through the air, following some strange patterned flight that is theirs alone. But this one now had become food, sustenance, for a bird who had met it in that place both creatures claim – the air.

Within a few seconds, the spectacle had ended. The bird consumed the whole of the dragonfly and, an instant later, took flight once more.

I looked up at a sight that was at once both sad and sacred. It was as if, for a moment, some parts of me also had wings – my sight or my soul – and I beheld this thing in wonder.

COVID-19, wonder, looking, thinking, understanding.

And I have no direct analogy for that thing I saw. No great and deep revelation. It was a thing that takes place a million times in a million ways. It was, that is to say, mundane and ordinary.

But at the same time, it was one in a million. Beautiful and captivating and fierce, this single sampling of nature the moment I looked up.

We surround ourselves and are surrounded by so much that brings sorrow in its fierceness, in its strangeness and the unexpected way it comes upon us.

Yet we are also surrounded by the wondrous and the beautiful.

Beauty, wonder, looking, thinking, understanding.

Perhaps a way to see ourselves through this time, to look back upon it one day with a heart that takes in all the complexity of all that we are seeing and experiencing, is by looking up.

Letting our thoughts take flight, and our hearts.

Or simply beholding some mundane yet sacred portion of nature. Looking, taking it in, and giving thanks for the moment.