Why pain?

serrated leaf

To younger people with mental health disorders I wish I could say, “It will be ok.” Man, that is what I hoped to hear from someone when I was younger. The truth is more complex.

Sometimes it will not be ok. It will continue to hurt overwhelmingly at times, unless you are lucky to find a cure. But the hurting is not your fault. In fact it is not bad.

We place this duality of good versus bad on too many things in the universe.

Two of the most popular dualities are happiness and sadness, pleasure and pain. Western society propagates a myth that if you work hard and do the right things you can achieve a steady state of joy and fulfillment. Some forms of religion have even turned it into a moral issue: if you are not happy, something must be wrong.

But that is a lie. A close look at the universe reveals that brokenness belongs in the pattern. Our bodies are made up of the dust of burned out, exploded stars. A thread of frailty and loss weaves inevitably through the bright fabric of our lives.

Although I specifically address psychological pain such as depression, the same applies to other illnesses and disabilities.

Do not believe you are a failure because you feel things keenly, because the whole mess seems incomprehensible or overwhelming. It hurts not because you are a loser but because you are human. Beware anyone, any path or any medicine that promises complete healing.

By this I do not mean you should fire your doctor or therapist, quit taking your medication or give up a spiritual practice. Maybe you should, but we all have to decide for ourselves.

The practical problem is how we can carry on, fit in, find love and make a living. Until society stops discriminating against people with mental and neurological disorders, barriers will remain. We need a better plan.

Meanwhile we must use all the creativity at our disposal to find ways that work for us. For me there are many disadvantages to being self-employed, but probably the greatest benefit is freedom to set my own pace, choose fulfilling work and make the most of my many good days.

I have not been able to keep up with my usual blogging routine recently. An episode of depression hit several weeks ago and has hung around. Ideas are scarce. Concentration dissipates quickly.

I know some work I can do to feel better. Some of those strategies would make another story. Most important is an attitude of forgiveness toward myself and the world for being imperfect.

Existence is not easy, but it is worth the struggle. Trust yourself. Do not compare yourself to people who seem to march through everything carelessly.

Pain might not be ok, but it is not the enemy. It is the counterpoint, the contrast that reveals the beauty and meaning of life.

14 thoughts on “Why pain?

  1. thank you for this post. it speaks to so many aspects of my life. I am trying now, for the first time in 14 years, to leave antidepressants behind (you wouldn’t have guessed that from knowing me, would you?)…a slow and painful process that not many folk understand….I am glad to know you, Mr. Waffle….

    1. I appreciate your sharing this. I wish you well with this process. I’ve been through stopping and cutting back antidepressants so I know how difficult it is.

  2. Interestingly, I was just discussing this topic in general with a new client yesterday who happened to mention that, because of his medical confinement to a group home, a ventilator, and other issues, that he often gets lonesome and grumpy, and would sometimes be chastised by the residence nurses if he wasn’t “happy and cheerful all the time.” I had something to say about society’s expectation of good cheer, no matter how artificial. It was hard to tell but I think he appreciated that on some level. I suspect we’ll have more to say on this matter as he and I start working together.

    Do you think your return from that 9 day retreat is connected somehow to this depression? I find the down-time of a retreat or vacation, at some point along the way, forces me to confront the futilities (is that a word?) of life that I simply cannot control. It’s another symptom of our go-go-rah-rah-happy-happy-joy-joy society’s desire to avoid pain.

    1. Yes, futility is a noun so you can pluralize it. 🙂

      In hindsight, some symptoms were appearing before I left. The retreat delayed it.

      I think it must be especially hard for nurses, who witness so much suffering and can’t let it affect their professionalism. There are a great many who do so with remarkable empathy, but some must have to shut down part of themselves so it’s no wonder they behave this way toward patients. That doesn’t justify it. If society were more understanding about the way different people grieve and experience pain, I expect that caregivers would receive better training in how to handle it. But I think nurses have one of the hardest jobs of all.

  3. I needed to hear this right now, we just finished a two hour session reviewing journal articles on depression, the author suggested that depression is natural and helps us find the downtime we need to focus on complex problems…I suspect you just captured his convoluted academic theory beautifully. You are an amazing artist in both words and photos….

    1. Thank you, Helen. I also needed to read your comment just now. I am interested to know more about the articles you reviewed.

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