Your Pain is Not Special. It Is Normal.

Self-Care Tip #243 – See yourself as special rather than your pain and know that you will find your normal again.

What is your normal?

When we were kids, we all had a perspective of what normal was.  Let’s say it was “here.”  Let’s imagine we were lovely then, nurtured and emotionally bonded.  We struggled through peer conflicts, social anxiety and rivalry.  We wanted a bike.

Two Sisters

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Then we got a little older.  Maybe our parents divorced.  Maybe, a sibling died.  Maybe we were abused or in an accident and damaged.  Damage changes normal.  What we never would have thought would be acceptable in our lives became acceptable.  We suffered.  We lived.  Life was indiscriminate and ignored our status.  We think there must be a mistake.

What is our normal at one point, filtered through remaining hopes, grew into regenerating fantasies, through real potential and it moved again.  We are older now and more suffering comes.

Where is our normal?  We survive our child, our own dear perfect boy, hanging from a tree.  Normal?  No dear God!  No!  And we continue to live.

Two years.  Two years are what it takes for our biology to catch up to the shock.  Two years are what it takes for us to begin to accept and realize that in this new normal we care again.  We choose it in fact.

People don’t remember his name or talk about him and we can’t remember his eyes.  We are ashamed and lose our breath from panic just trying to see them.  We want to bang our head because we know there is something wrong about feeling normal! Ever! Again! after that.  But we do.

Our normal mutates over financial ruin, abandonment and a growing healthy list of disfiguring illnesses.  We accept them and say yes please.  Live.  We want to live.  This is acceptable.  This is normal.  Our friends die.  Our memory.  We can’t find our teeth.  Our heart stops.  We die and the world finds normal.  The world chooses just like we did.

What we don’t think will ever be allowed to happen while we brush hair, clip our nails and microwave food, happens. We endure these changes.  We find normal again.

What is your normal?

My brother, Vance Johnson MD, is a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist.  He said that during his residency, close to 100% of spinal cord injury paralysis survivors he worked with wanted to die after their injury.  Many of them would beg him to let them die.  They would cuss at him for keeping them alive.

I leaned very heavily on the studies and data during those times.  It was very hard.

Vance said that what kept him faithful to his task was knowing that close to 100% of them after two years would be glad they were kept alive.

Even the ones who were basically breathing through a straw and that’s all that moved on them; even they wanted to live.  These people found a new normal.

Where is our normal?  We will want it.  We will adapt.  Biology will catch up to our reality.

Remember that your pain is not special.  You are special.  Not your pain.  Pain is normal.

Question:  When this happened to you, how did normal find you despite the rubble?  How does this concept feel to you, that your pain is not special?  Does it make you angry or what?  Please tell me your story.

The Good and Bad of Anxiety

In response to yesterday’s blog, a reader wrote,

I often feel my flight and fight response triggered even in situations (mostly social) that should not (theoretically) even be frightening. What do you think about that?

This is like the degrees of water temperature in our shower.  Pretty much every one falls somewhere on the spectrum of this type of anxiety.  When is it ok, and when does it become not ok?  My brother, friend, mentor, Cameron Johnson MD said in so many words

Anxiety is what makes us work hard.  If we didn’t have anxiety, we’d all be slobs.  We’d stink.  We wouldn’t get our homework done.  We wouldn’t say as many nice things.

My children still see most things in all-or-none fashion.  They would say at this point of the discussion, “Anxiety is good.”

A teenager I treat began responding to her medication.  Her mom began to complain.  “She never let this happen before!”  Her room was a mess.  She was less prompt to obey and she started voicing her opposing opinions more.  In some ways, without the anxiety, it was like her mom was getting to know her for the first time.  

This was however, better than anything this girl and her mom had hoped for.  Now the girl wasn’t throwing up, having panic attacks, avoiding just about any social experience.  She was making eye contact with me and she was able to present in class.  She told me that she can’t even think about how she felt before.  It was so bad.

It is really hard for any one who has never suffered from debilitating anxiety to realize the level of suffering and terror it causes.  Someone who may look stuck up, aloof, disinterested, quiet, bored, may in fact be at hells door.

My children might now say, “Anxiety is bad.”

And so to my reader quoted above, I’d say with my children, anxiety is good and anxiety is bad.  Come and paint the stars with me for a time.  Talk and tell me your story.  We shall in degrees of mind and manners, unwind the mysteries together.

Self Care Tip #49 – If anxiety is affecting you in a negative way, consider a medical reason.  Be a friend to yourself.