Be Friendly Enough With Yourself To Acknowledge the Gift In Your Suffering

Strange Lady

Image by bending light via Flickr

Pain. There are so many of us suffering from pain that sometimes it is as if nobody escapes. Even so, in the contorting agony that pain brings, we have a very hard time thinking outside of ourselves at all. We are preoccupied with ourselves. We do not think about the others hurting or others in general at all. Pain does that – emotional and/or physical.

Penelope was preoccupied too. She had suffered and was suffering still. Peeling her thoughts away from survival during those times when, with teeth and muscles clenched, her body felt like a universe unto itself. Everyone outside of her were aliens she was able to visit occasionally. Watching her and hearing her describe how it molded her current person, I remembered the book by Paul Brand, Pain: the Gift Nobody Wants. (We mentioned this book before in our blog-post, “Emotions: The Physical Gift We Can Name.”)

When we are sick with Pain Syndrome, with symptoms seen in our emotions, behaviors and nerve language, it is hard to perceive what good can come out of bad. Saying, when we are in that ditch, that the sun is happily shining overhead is rude and boring. Especially when it is rhetoric. Change that rhetoric to insight, well that would then be worth friendly and interesting. That would be hope. There comes a degree of knowledge that hasn’t reached our sensory selves yet but sits in our intellect. We have a glimpse of the ark of the covenant, a promise, nearly prophesy in fact – we have a knowing that something good can come out of this.

This is why I thought of the work of Paul Brand, M.D. with the lepers. I thought that Penelope might want to know that there is something good that could come out of her bad if she were healthy in other ways, enough to receive it. If her senses could perceive it, her emotions, sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell could take in that information and deliver enough of it uninterrupted, what was promised to her would come true; past the pain that distracts and preoccupies.

It is as if this good that comes out of bad were like a runner in a war zone. Bombs are exploding. It is noisy even though hearing was taken out after the last gun fire. Dirt and sweat drip over eyes and into mouths and no one believes they will survive. And then the runner trips into our shelter and collapses still alive; still holding the message in his hand. Something good made it across a land in havoc and war and we know about it now.

I thought of Paul Brand, M.D., telling Penelope that her pain is her gift at that point of knowing, with that timing. Better than I could. She wouldn’t laugh angrily and give him a bad review on-line. She would hear him. “Something good is coming your way. You have hope.” In my imagination, Penelope would not hear Dr. Brand moralizing her experience – “You are good if you perceive your gift and you are bad if you don’t.” In my fantasy, Penelope would understand that this offering wasn’t intended to make her feel guilty for hurting. It was an offering of hope.

Not so easy to do, as it turns out, in real life. I am a very human psychiatrist without

much magic about me very often. But if I did…

Question: How do you give yourself hope when your senses don’t perceive it? How are you your own friend when you are preoccupied and distracted from that which is friendly? Please tell us your story.

Self-Care Tip – Be friendly enough with yourself to believe that there is something good that will come out of your bad. There is hope.

22 thoughts on “Be Friendly Enough With Yourself To Acknowledge the Gift In Your Suffering

  1. Been able to accept the physical pain of illness and injury. Perhaps the most difficult pain for most of us to endure is anguish. That is why it must be dealt with philosophically not from a psychological approach in my opinion. In keeping with this Thanksgiving, I look to the Pilgrims for strength. 10 died on the voyage, 50 perished the first winter leaving only 60 for that first Thanksgiving. And yet they had acceptance and praised God. Man, that’s as tough as you can get. My pain has left me bitter, resentful and yet weathered in an existential way. Made me stubborn in a positive way. We have to self activate our survival instinct. Or die.

  2. Hello Dr. Johnson-Quijada,

    I’m glad your post was linked with a post on my blog. Certainly, pain is a gift I don’t want. I’m speaking specifically about chronic pain, and it’s disabling and debilitating effects. I haven’t thought very much about being a friend to myself through the pain. It is a very isolating and lonely experience. It has been my faith and relationship with the Lord, that is bearing me up at this time. I believe God, and I believe what His word says. “All things work together for good to them who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

    Thank you for sharing your perspective on this subject matter. It was encouraging to me.

    God bless you!


  3. So much of it is perception, and so subjective … there is no objective gift in pain, just a story we tell ourselves or not. Much like God, for whom there is no objective proof, only perception, belief, faith, stories. Storytelling is one of our most important functions as human beings. But what if I can’t get myself to believe the story? Every story is equally valid, which validates the negative story, trapped in a world with no meaning and no motivation, every act the beginning of its own undoing, its ruin. I’ve told myself that story most of my life, and without objective proof of an alternative, it is difficult to move on.

    • BDE, i LOVE it when u speak up. u r so smart. who u r is out there for us is creative words and lines of logic and passion. this was so good – the storytelling feature being important to humanity. as one who can’t stop the process of fantasizing in the way i interpret the world around me, that is pithy.
      i will push u a little though on the objective evidence, if u will put up w me. if u read this book by Dr. Brand you’ll enjoy his approach to objectifying what he describes as “Pain the gift”… keep talking.

  4. It’s my favorite time of the year. I love the decorating, the shopping, the church activities, the cooking. Actually, WE (my husband and I) love doing all of the above together. So here we are this year: gall bladder surgery that went well but normally takes 4-6 weeks to completely heal has me slowed to a crawl; weakness that I cannot seem to overcome from lack of treatment or nutrition for five days at the hospital before I had surgery adds to the crawl to make it pretty much no movement without holding onto something or someone; stress from both has my fibromyalgia pain at a level I haven’t felt in years; and Wednesday night my husband – my caregiver and right-hand man – was bitten on the hand by a bear of a Berneise (sp?) Mountain something dog and, along with the tetanus shot he had to get, the pain in his arm and hand have rendered the left side of his upper body virtually useless.
    Gift of pain, you say? Hmmmmm. Gift? Hmmmm. I guess the really great thing is that, as we sit amongst the chaos that is our house and our life at the moment, we can giggle and say that it has finally come to this in our life –
    between the two of us we are a half a person but we ARE two of us and we spent Thanksgiving yesterday with our family and we couldn’t be more blessed. That, I have learned over the last year or so, is being a friend to ourselves. Thanks, Sana and friendtoyourself friends. Happy holidays!

  5. In my current situation where life is very dark, I visit the blogs of two people – neither of whom I know. My son’s classmate (17yo) was in a tragic accident this past summer leaving him in a permanent vegetative state. His father’s daily updates are filled with upbeat, hopeful comments. It amazes me that someone in this situation can still have his faith and still believe and hope for a miracle. The other blog is Anna See’s who lost her 12 yo son this past fall to a freak flash flood. To read of her agony at lost her beloved child makes me realize that my problems just need perspective.

    I am only facing the fact that my husband of almost 19 years is leaving me. And while I feel devastated and so so sad for my children – as well as a failure to them – at least I am not living the life of those I just mentioned because that seems far worse. Millions of people get divorced and come out on the other side. I can only hope that my other side will leave me and my children mostly unscathed – and perhaps there will be something better for me. I don’t know and that is the scariest part.

    • wow Cathy. the suffering is thick. you remind me of “Hallelujah” – a song written by Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. Praising God in our flawed selves, in our suffering, in our ecstacy in any condition we find ourselves. u r one like this. you are in a place where the good and the bad blend, a place of presence w Me and in your hope u sing hallelujah. thanks for speaking out to us. keep on.

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