The Power of Pain

The Power of Pain

Recently I endured several weeks of serious pain related to a severe shoulder muscle strain. When it began, I thought it would be a brief inconvenience as I have worked through numerous physical challenges throughout an active life.

However, this was not a brief inconvenience. It was a chronic and abiding pain that left me unable to sleep for nights and weeks on end. I felt frantic during some of those nights not just because I couldn’t sleep but because I couldn’t find any relief whatsoever from the pain.

It was a humbling experience and an important one. Blessed with good health and a sturdy constitution (just what every girl wants, right?), I had never dealt with circumstances like this. At times, when I would hear people complain with furrowed brow about their pain, I sometimes thought to myself, “Get a grip. Mind over matter. Calm down.”

I realize in retrospect how ignorant and arrogant that sounds. Imagining that my experience working through pain was similar to others’ was simply not true. Oh, how important this is! My story is not your story and vice versa.

I have a new appreciation for people suffering from chronic pain. No one wishes it; no one purposely structures their life to welcome it. Pain is a powerful agent. It disturbs sleep, fogs minds, and generally creates conditions that make it impossible to function normally. For me it was a mind clearer. Humbling, as I said. A reason to be deeply grateful for the health I have enjoyed all my life. Also a reason have compassion for those who struggle.

I remember reading something decades ago, written by Zig Ziglar: “Just because you are in pain doesn’t mean you have to be one.” There’s food for thought.

Physical pain aside, this experience also caused me to consider the many divides separating people today. We blame narratives: dark money, bigotry, privilege, racism, sexism, and a host of other isms, ad nauseum. I’m not so sure this type of hyperventilation has anything to do with the pain of being different. What I do wonder about is the increasing ability of operatives—political or otherwise—to capitalize on our human challenges to pit one against another to no one’s gain but their own.

This is a complex problem, no doubt. At the root, however, I can see where people who are desperate to be healed may find and latch on to those who pretend to understand and promise relief. Retribution. Restoration to a rightful place. It’s a siren call that too often proves hollow. Sometimes the only way to alleviate pain is to acknowledge it, try to identify the source (an imperfect science), and treat it gently, with an eye on the ultimate goal. As a physician once said to me in the midst of an injury: “A tincture of time and lots of patience will ultimately restore your health.” Seems a good prescription for lots of pains!

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