Write through the pain.
It's a cliche I've heard (and said) for years, and in various circumstances.
Feel alone in an out-of-state hospital or treatment center in the middle of the night? Get out your journal and write through the pain.
Teenage heartbreak? Get out your journal (or take to xanga circa 2004-6) and write through the pain.
Feel isolated/alone/ignored/bullied? Use your time to write through the pain.
Physical illness that presents with countless debilitating symptoms throughout the course of your life? Write through the pain.
Feel horribly guilty because you reduced your parents to tears behind closed doors because of something you did or said in the heat of the moment? Apologize, then write through that pain.
Nineteen-percent on a midterm that makes up over a third of your grade your first semester in college? Call your parents, cry, and write through the pain.
Loss of a family member, friend, pet, or other loved one? You better write through that pain.
When you feel emotional, spiritual, or physical pain and can't think of any way to ease it? Write through the pain.
It's only as I write this now, and as I list just a handful of the examples of situations in which I've been told to whip out my journal and "write through the pain" through the years, that I realize how unwelcome a presence that phrase has become in my life. I'm not against using journaling and writing as a way to help you cope with life's battles (...obviously, because I majored in English, run this blog, frequently write raps/poetry, and have been saved by a good journaling session more times than I can count), but I've noticed in the past several months I've barely been able to write at all, and right now, I am even less able devote the time and energy it would require to "write through the pain" (of all types) I face daily.
I've recently uncovered a personal truth, and I'm willing to bet it's also a universal truth, even though it doesn't get mentioned as much as the "tried-and-true" cliche above.
Sometimes there is too much pain.
That sounds overly-simplistic, I know, and I want to try my best to explain what I mean:
Sometimes the pain we feel is from an isolated incident, meaning it has the potential to fade over time (although I'm not sure it ever fades as far as losing a loved one is concerned). Other times we may feel otherwise-forgotten pain when unexpectedly faced with old memories. And then there are the times when we feel pain coming at us from all directions, via all possible means, in all imaginable forms, and in every corner of our life. Humans are pros at hiding their pain from other humans, be it emotional, spiritual, physical, or otherwise, and sometimes we do this so often we also hide it from ourselves. It makes sense that at any given moment, a stressful event or a certain situation can not only cause us pain related to the situation itself, but can be the trigger, the catalyst, the tipping point that brings all the pain we've been holding (and hiding) inside for years crashing down so we find ourselves buried beneath one big pile of oh-my-gosh-how-am-I-going-to-make-it-through-this-alive-I-can't-handle-any-more pain.
Those are the times To which I'm referring when I say "Sometimes there is too much pain."
What does "too much pain" look like? That would be the logical next question, right? Or maybe, "how can I tell when there is too much pain?"
Both are valid questions. Valid, unanswerable questions. Unanswerable because it looks and feels different for each person. There have been times in my life, such as the cumulative months I spent in eating disorder treatment centers from 2004-2011, and the years in between, when I distinctly remember asking God to either take the pain away or just let me go to heaven because it seemed so insurmountable. To be fair, the word "seem" (and tenses thereof) is a gross understatement. It diminishes the reality of how insurmountable life actually is sometimes (or at least how truly insurmountable it feels, all the way to our very cores).
A few examples of what "too much pain" can look like:
1.). In high school, there were times when "too much pain" looked like a 16-year-old girl who got up every morning, looked in the mirror and chastised herself for being [insert atrociously negative self image-related adjectives here], put on mascara, drove to school, made straight A's, played in the band, and sang in the church Christmas program. All day, every day, despite these normal life activities, there was a mental record player full of self-deprecating thoughts running through her head telling her she would never be good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, or just simply "enough," but she smiled as much as she could, she tried to "fake it till she made it," and she tried to write through the pain. (One particularly painful season of high school would find this same girl going to school, attending any mandatory after school rehearsals, and then going to bed as soon as she got home and ate the dinner she knew she couldn't avoid--often by 6pm--due to battling depression...point being: even within the same day, the experience of "too much pain" looked different to those not experiencing it.)
2.) Throughout high school, college, and beyond (before official Lyme diagnosis ~2 years ago), "too much pain" sometimes meant falling asleep sometime after 4am after a late night, weeknight hospital trip (only achieving aforementioned sleep with prescription sleep medication), waking up with joints that were still stiff and swollen and painful, taking more prescription medication, getting monthly IV infusions, and going out dancing with friends one night, going ice skating the following day, making sure everyone on social media knew how much fun it was, and then curling up under an electric blanket with a velveteen rabbit-esque brown dog, and crying for hours while begging God to take the pain away because it was too much, trying to write through the pain only to realize you can't grip a pen, and your mind--and the ability to process emotions and write everything down--is as locked up as your wrist is.
3. The loss of essentially two grandparents within 3 months while also traveling across the country to find medical answers, finding ways to make your own "fun" out of things that really aren't fun at all, having to quit your second "big-girl job" for different reasons than the ones that forced you to quit your first job two years prior, dealing with those emotions as well as the stress of medical tests that surely were dreamt up in some yet-undiscovered 10th circle of hell, reassuring everyone it's all part of God's plan and it will all work out, both knowing that to be true but not really feeling it most of the time, frequently asking others their prayer needs to distract them from asking about you, sharing positive images and scriptures on all social media platforms while your husband willingly takes on the full-time caregiver/nurse/chef/dog walker/house cleaner/sole provider position (in addition to his already full-time job that by nature requires an abundance of hours outside of the regular school schedule) not knowing what the next year will bring. At one point in time, that was "too much pain." Even still, you force yourself to write, though at this point you're not sure if you're writing through the pain as much as you are exacerbating the pain by forcing yourself to do an act you're not fully convinced is as helpful as it once was. Keeping a smile on your face and minimizing the seriousness by making jokes.
And finally, we have present-day. If you were to look at my life as it is at the time of writing this post, here's what "too much pain" would look like:
4. Spend all night willing yourself to sleep as you try to manage a plethora of symptoms and keep bigger flares at bay, only to add another zero-minutes-of-sleep night to your ever-growing list. Mentally berate yourself for the tense changes you know are littering the blog post you're writing, but don't take time to fix it because your mind can't do english as well as it once did, despite your vocabulary itself being back to ~70% power. Pick your phone up, feel a wave of nausea coincide with the turning on of the blue light screen, set phone down. Repeat. Repeat. On a good day (following a sleepless night), sleep will come at some point between 10am-12pm, but even that's rare. And some days you're unable to do anything BUT sleep because you've been drinking homeopathic tinctures of the viruses and bacteria that have overwhelmed your body for years as part of your treatment to train your immune system to do what it's supposed to do. Completely change your diet, eliminating everything you ate for the first 24 years of your life and being given a list of foods that are safe (meaning, foods that won't feed underlying infections)--spend months figuring out what these safe foods are because many you've never ever heard of before and they can only be found in health food stores or ordered online, and when added to your supplement bottles and detox tools that have overtaken your side of the bedroom, realize that your new grocery list for your quest to regain your health is more expensive than you ever could have imagined. Occasionally post a picture of a green smoothie (something you've grown to love, although it took a while) or another gluten free/vegan/sugar free/yeast free/nut free/many other individual foods-free recipe that had to be made over the course of a few days, in an effort to not overwhelm your social media contacts with less-than-happy posts. Get mad at yourself for violating your personal rule of "don't put up a facade," but instead of writing real-life posts, just stop logging onto social media altogether, unless you have something specific to share in the way of advocacy for any of the causes you support. Start to make a list to share of all the physical pain you feel from day to day and realize the task is impossible because a.) some symptoms change daily and b.) you're having to keep continual pressure on your right eye/ear/jaw/side of head area to try to take away some of the inside-out stabbing pain, finding little relief in the dark sunglasses and tight ball cap--your new uniform, as much a part of your body as any limb, organ, or other system, due to donning it daily. Spend the little energy you do have on tasks like researching your illnesses so you can equip yourself to fight them as best as possible, all the while slowly developing a new vocabulary--losing sight of the fact that most of what you say/think about day in, day out is a foreign language to everyone else around you--and slowly losing yourself in the process. Continue to share an occasional update during college basketball season (because you still bleed Kentucky blue and love to watch the Cats play, especially in this yet-undefeated season, despite sleeping through multiple games this year due to treatment reactions). Reach new levels of fatigue, physical pain, emotional pain, spiritual warfare, and experience periods of what can best be described as apathy, something you've not regularly experienced in your life because it's not inherent in your being, although it has become a fairly frequent feeling over the course of the last several months. (I could continue this list, but I've already written much more than I intended.)
The apathy. I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that apathy is what "too much pain" looks like for me right now. Reason being, the apathy only comes after extended periods of physical, mental, emotional, spiritual pain and duress. And when I say "apathy," I'm not talking about the stereotypical teenage don't-know-don't-care attitude, but rather a sense of "I can't even think about having the mental or physical energy to do anything other than the absolute minimum I must do to live." Which includes currently inessential (and currently unhelpful) activities like writing through the pain (this is also why I haven't posted on here in over 2 months). When fighting chronic illnesses, you're also fighting to stay connected to who you are.
The longer you fight, the easier it is to lose parts of yourself without realizing. Writing has always been the one activity I could fall back on, even when I'm unable to do my other all-time favorite stress relieving activity, figure skating, and in these past several months I've not only lost the ability to write as often and as efficiently as I used to, but as a result of the type of apathy I mentioned above, even thinking about a blog topic has been uninteresting (and daunting, taxing, not-enjoyable like it always has been in the past) to me. In a way, this loss of desire for writing--my lifelong passion--is one of the most painful aspects of this disease because it's so much more than a lack of desire to write...it's the loss of my passion, and being deeply passionate about things I enjoy/deem worthwhile/obsess over has always been the one character trait I've never had to question. It's always been there, even throughout all the years fighting mental health battles, even during a period of years where I couldn't acknowledge another single positive thing about myself, "passionate" was the one positive adjective I was able to say described me.
And now? It's gone. My passion is gone. The length of this post may suggest otherwise, but in the interest of full disclosure, I've been working on this for almost 3 hours and have had to begrudgingly force myself to write these paragraphs, one sentence at a time. It seems strange, I'm sure, for me to say that writing this has not only been difficult, but downright unenjoyable, but that's the truth. I didn't write this because I wanted to write it, I wrote it because it needed to be written. Not in the fun "I have to get these words out before I can do anything else because I'm a writer and writers have an inherent need to write to avoid internal combustion" way, but in the "it's now almost 8am and the only reason I'm still writing is because by the time almost-5am rolled around I was wide awake and decided to start this post and I wish I could've just ended it several paragraphs ago, maybe I'll stop now and not post it at all" kind of way.
No, it needed to be written because this is the reality of life right now, and what kind of example would I be as an advocate if I only shared things when times were good instead of giving my readers a lens into all aspects of my current life?
I don't really mean for this to be seen as a negative post (but this disclaimer could partially be because I have an innate fear of people viewing me as a Debbie downer if I post something without a super-positive twist, and that's something I strive not to be), but more of a "look, this is real life, this is my reality right now and I feel it needs to be shared" post. I feel such a sense of defeat and exhaustion at this stage of the journey. I still have no doubt that God is going to heal me--I don't know when or where, but I know He's already got the date marked on His calendar, circled, highlighted, and asterisked--and even on days when the enemy is beating me down, making it hard to truly FEEL that truth, I know deep down that it IS true.
I do want to close with the chorus of one of my favorite hymns, simply because I need to remind myself (as much as, or more than, others), that it's okay for me to not know the date, because I know whenever it is, it's when it needs to be to complete His plan for my life. It's possible my day of healing will be today (if He works a miracle), and it's possible it will be the day I go home to Him, but even if the latter is the case, what a glorious day that will be!
"What a day that will be,
When my Jesus I shall see,
When I look upon His face,
The One who saved me by His grace.
When He takes me by the hand,
And leads me through the promised land.
What a day, glorious day, that will be!"