“Although extraordinary valor was displayed by the entire corps of Spartans and Thespians, yet bravest of all was declared the Spartan Dienekes. It is said that on the eve of battle, he was told by a native of Trachis that the Persian archers were so numerous that, their arrows would block out the sun. Dienekes, however, undaunted by this prospect, remarked with a laugh, ‘Good. Then we will fight in the shade.'”
This morning I woke up not in pain. It was a strange, strange thing to wake up to. This is because I’m almost always in mild physical pain. Sometimes moderate, sometimes severe, occasionally unbearably severe. But usually just mild. It’s like background noise, the clothes against my skin, the back of a chair against my body. It’s just there, I don’t even usually realize until something brings my attention to it for some reason. It’s almost never a problem to me that I’m almost always in pain. I just accept it. It just is. It doesn’t interfere with anything or prevent joy or happiness.
Although, sometimes it disturbs me that some people must always or frequently be in pain even if it’s only mild.
It hurts me to think of it, occasionally.
And occasionally I am fearful of the fact that my body can always hurt.
Sometimes I am filled with a sense of dread.
But mostly, it’s not a problem, not an issue at all. My pain is often so mild and so frequent, so mundane that I used to suspect if it somehow does go away, I may not even notice. The mild to moderate pain is so deep into my body, so ingrained it feels as if it will never go away, like it can’t ever go away. Like it’s not a possibility. It’s so deep into me. In my face, jaw, and head. It’s as much a part of me as my other physical attributes, like the color of my skin, my hair, my dna…or at least I thought so.
I used to feel this way about my depression when I was depressed constantly everyday almost, for many years. But the difference is, the depression was a problem, a serious problem. It was destroying me. It wasn’t mild.
And for me, mild depression is worse than mild physical pain.
My mild physical pain doesn’t destroy me.
One difference to me about severe physical pain and depression is when my severe physical pain ends, I am consciously aware for a short while that I’m no longer in agony but I always go back to my usual ways of generally forgetting that I’m no longer in severe pain.
I always promise myself I won’t. I promise myself that when the horror of physical agony ends I will every waking second of everyday realize and be consciously aware that I’m not in physical agony, suffering. I break that promise. Again and again.
Sometimes I do consciously, intentionally acknowledge that I’m not in severe pain even when I haven’t been in severe pain for a while and I give thanks. This can happen out of the blue or I can intentionally summon those thoughts and feelings. My pain teaches me to be more aware of not being in pain than I would have if I never experienced it, but it’s not on my mind every second.
You know when you are very sick or have a sore throat or anything and it ends and you are consciously aware for a while then you go back to being used to it being gone?
With depression, for me, it’s not like that. I am consciously aware, literally almost every second, often even in my slumbering dreams, that I’m not suicidal and depressed when I’m not. I don’t always talk about it but my deep awareness is always there.
After years and years and more and more years of suicidal depression day in and day out with only short breaks, now that I am generally happy, I can’t take a single second of not being depressed and suicidal for granted. Not a second.
I am consciously aware of my desire and will to live. Almost always. This awareness began in 2008 but deepened and became more frequent in 2010 and as the years went on, it became even greater.
That’s why I write about it here so frequently and in a positive way. Because it’s always on my mind. And it inspires me. And I want to help everyone else I can with or without depression.
If you have ever been depressed for a few years or months or just an episode or environmental depression maybe you understand or not. But maybe people who have been depressed and suicidal for so many years, it’s hard to count, and almost constantly or for each stage of life, a life long condition, will understand at a deeper level exactly what I’m saying.
I don’t usually meet people like this that I know of.
But even if you never experienced depression of any sort, you can get some sort of idea, I hope.
I try to use my pain, both physical and emotional, to my advantage. It deepens my empathy for others and nurtures my creativity. It encourages me to always, consciously notice the beauty around me. All the simple beauty and joys. I have felt physical pain that is just as bad as my severe depression. Less frequent but the magnitude just as severe.
Also, to me, physical pain and sickness have a way of seeming more urgent than other problems, even severe problems. It has a way of temporarily pushing everything else aside, screaming for attention. It’s louder than other pain, though not necessarily worse or more painful. It needs tending to right then and there while everything else can take the back burner for a moment. It screams louder.
Both kinds of pain inspire me.
Both shatter me and make me whole.
My physical pain is usually a dull ache but it can exacerbate into a more intense throbbing ache or burning, stabbing, shooting pain. It can be constant and come in bolts of sharp pain or burning. Over and over.
When I just think of eating, I automatically, like a reflex, think of a dull ache or sometimes an unbearable throb or stabbing. I cannot chew without pain, like I said, not usually a problem as long as I’m careful but sometimes it’s a serious one. It’s not my choice to think of pain when I think of food. Again, it just is. I see food or even just think of food that looks good to me and automatically my head conjures up thoughts of pain because my jaw dysfunction results in not being able to chew without it. When I imagine eating, I imagine hurting. To me, eating is hurting. Sometimes eating is even suffering. But I don’t even always realize it because it’s so automatic and natural to me. Like if you imagine food then the taste or texture of the food or pleasure of eating. I think of all that and pain, usually mild.
I read a story written by a lady with a severe case like mine, but even worse than mine. She said when she goes to a restaurant and looks at a menu to choose her food, she doesn’t think “What do I want to eat today but how much do I want to suffer today?”
I know that exact feeling. Sometimes no matter how mouth-watering food looks, it’s just not worth it. And the pain doesn’t always come on right away. Sometimes I eat something I know I shouldn’t or chew gum, and I’ll be paying for it later. It’s better when the pain flares up worse right away because it’s more of an incentive to avoid it the next occasion I feel like giving in. Sometimes when some of us know we won’t have to pay now but later, we give into temptation because later seems less of a reality than the more near future. Like maxing out three credit cards in like less than a month. (I’m guilty)
Today I woke up and automatically knew something was different. And I knew right away what it was. I wasn’t in pain. Not even mild pain.
But it wasn’t just that.
It wasn’t just the absence of pain but more like the actual presence of “no pain.” As if “no pain” isn’t merely lack but an entity itself. It was a presence. A physical presence. “No pain” wasn’t just lack of, it wasn’t just no pain. It was something. A healing “blanket.” Like a thickness of something. My jaw, my face, my head. It finally stopped throbbing. It finally stopped aching. The stabbing, the burning, it all stopped.
But something came in its place. Something I can’t explain or understand. I don’t know if it’s just because I’m not used to not being in pain, it felt like this or if it was something else but it wasn’t a mere absence or lack.
It was a feeling of like healing and comfort all in my jaw, face, and head. A soothing essence, a physical presence of hope. That’s what it felt like. I don’t know what else to say about it because I can’t find the words. It wasn’t just an emotional, mental, or psychological feeling. It was physical and only in the places where it usually hurts. It’s kind of bizarre.
I wanted to not get out of bed. I wanted to stay and bask and bathe and soak in that unusual, strange, warm, inviting feeling I never experienced before then. I wanted to greedily devour it. I feared, for a second, that it was only a dream and that I would awaken and soon the beautiful feeling would be snatched by the rapacious hands of reality.
But it wasn’t a dream.
When I wasn’t yet diagnosed with the disorder I used to lay in my bed many nights in agony. In so much pain both physical and the emotional pain and loneliness it brought
When it was unbearable and almost unbearable and I was often afraid to touch my face, I would imagine a hand touching my face, a soothing touch, rubbing my face, taking my pain away. Gently stroking my cheek. I imagined this hand in various skin colors. Sometimes it was an old hand with wrinkles, sometimes young and smooth skin. Sometimes it was a man’s hand, usually a woman’s. I even used to sometimes envision the fingernails, the prints. I felt the softness of compassionate touch. All different hands on different nights, delicately upon my face.
But it was always a healing hand. It couldn’t take away my physical pain but it helped me ease my loneliness and fear.
I would imagine a healing vibration just flowing through me. I imagined love flowing through my face and head. Flowing through every cell of my body.
The feeling I imagined back then is not unlike the real feeling I experienced this morning. It was almost like an invisible hand touching me, healing me.
I recently experienced a very bad flare up that lasted over a week then regressed back to the mild pain. I wonder if I dreamed of those imaginary healing hands last night, those hands that soothed my fear and eased my loneliness, and I woke up temporarily healed.
Did my cells hear my dream? Were my nerves and my muscles and my bones soothed by the memory of my vivid healing imagery late into the night all those years ago? Was my pain quieted by a healing sleeping fantasy? I will never know.
I wanted to weep tears of gratitude because I was reminded that things CAN get better even when it seems they can’t.
This experience in the morning in its symbolic realness, instilled a deeper sense of hope into me. I thought that pain was literally impossible to heal, to get to go completely away. Not always necessarily in a negative way, not always despair. I thought it was just something I had to always live with constantly being there. It wasn’t all bad.
But this situation helped me realize that even when something feels impossible or like it can never get better, it can! Even severe depression, suicidal urges and thoughts and other unpleasant situations that feel hopeless and literally impossible to make better, they can get better. Even if a situation or chronic pain can’t get better or won’t for whatever reason, we can learn to live with it and be happy anyway.
Be happy anyway.
Find joy anyway. Find beauty anywhere.
In all its colors and forms and feelings.
I was reminded of this life lesson today.
I hope you will tune into reminders and little messages of hope all around you. Sometimes they come easily, out of the blue, and sometimes we have to force ourselves to see.
But they are there. Little gems of hope all around. We can find hope in the early morning Sun, the Moon in the midst of all that celestial darkness, hope in the thousands of twinkling stars up above, hope in the gentle Spring that blooms to life after a long cold barren Winter, hope in the dead of Winter, glistening in the snow and frost, hope in the beauty of Fall, the crisp wind and leaves that adorn the ground and streets, hope in the soft rhythm of Summer’s sweet song, the warmth of the beams of golden sun that caress the living flowers and trees, hope in the pulsation of your heart and the rhythm of your breath. Hope in the life that breathes in you.
“I told her once I wasn’t good at anything. She told me survival is a talent.”
Susanna Kaysen, “Girl, Interrupted”