A Layman’s Perspective
I was about 85 percent finished writing my blog this week and I began questioning why anyone would want to read what I had to say about coping with pain. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for me to remind myself that I wasn’t writing my blog for anyone else. That certainly makes it easier to put it all out there. I’ve been in therapy on and off, mostly on, for over 35 years. I’ve learned the kinds of things I have to say to myself or do for myself, in order to better deal with any kind of anxiety or emotional pain that I might be experiencing at any given moment. By now I know that there are certain times of the day, night and year that are more difficult for me. I also have a better understanding of how I respond to various remedies.
I do not suffer from clinical depression. I have friends and family members who have been diagnosed with the disease and so I know what it looks like. What I experience almost every day is your average, run-of-the-mill worry. It’s unpleasant, tiring, and I wish it didn’t exist, but I know that it’s normal. It’s hard to smile when I’m feeling badly. I know that the work I have done to mitigate that worry has helped me to achieve a certain amount of success and joy in my life. The way I see it, there are multiple ways to deal with any issue, problem, concern, crisis, situation; whatever you choose to call it. I’ve tried nearly every remedy known to humankind and I have figured out what works and what doesn’t work. When I find something that works, I write about it in my journal. It’s like anything else in life, if you repeat it several times and in several ways, it becomes more deeply rooted and hopefully, eventually, sticks and becomes part of your routine. There are good habits and bad habits; it’s the good habits you want to hold onto.
We’ve all had to deal with some kind of physical or emotional pain in our lives. How we cope with pain is different for each of us. Our coping mechanisms come from different places. Some of it is genetic, some learned, some a reflex reaction, sometimes a friend will insist that you do something because they believe it will help, and sometimes relief comes in the form of a pill.
Although I think physical pain can be difficult, challenging, and hurt badly, I will be focusing on emotional pain. Unfortunately, I’ve had way too much experience with both; however, physical pain requires specific remedies and I’m not in the business of spouting off medical advice.
Emotional Pain and What Works for Me
- Meditation — I’ve tried many different types of meditation and by now, I know what works for me. I have a friend who can sit and meditate for eight to ten hours. Although I admire his commitment and patience, I know that I cannot meditate for more than 20 minutes without getting antsy and irritated. What seems to work best for me is just to sit quietly for 10 to 20 minutes. No music, no spiritual guide; just quiet. Early on I learned this method where you push everything out of your mind; I hated it and found it frustrating. What works best for me, is to allow whatever thoughts that come into my consciousness to enter and whirl about a bit. Some thoughts come and go quickly and others need more time. It’s not necessarily problem solving or closure; it’s more organic than that. It is a way of allowing the thoughts that need to surface to float to the top and make room for others thoughts. Making time for meditation is challenging. Early on I had to schedule it. After 30 years of almost daily practice, I now meditate without giving the practice much thought. The beauty of it is that you can do it almost anywhere, at almost any time. I can’t say I meditate every day; however, it is a tool I know that I can easily call on when and if I need it.
- Therapy — I am a firm believer is the power of therapy. Most of my therapists (I’ve probably had more than 10) have been social workers. I did have a Freudian therapist early on, but he was 110 and not way too weird. For me it has always been about having someone who will listen. I need to talk and having a stranger who has absolutely no emotional or physical connection, listen, has always helped. A good therapist knows not to give you advice or even tell you what to do. A good therapist will ask the right questions which will help you come to a resolution or solution on your own. I once had a therapist fall asleep during our session — not good if your suffering from self-esteem issues. I fired him immediately and it felt good.
- Time — “Time heals all wounds” may be some of the truest words ever spoken. The difficulty lies in allowing time to pass. Impatient people like myself want emotional pain to pass quickly and have little patience for waiting it out. But as you know, the healing takes place over time and what is learned about oneself and the loss, is what is truly precious and essential for growth.
- Friends and Family — I received a sympathy card from an acquaintance in the U.S. yesterday. It struck me that this individual took the time to write me a letter/card about my recent loss. She seemed to fully understand the extent of my loss and expressed her concern and affection, eloquently. We all have people like this in our lives. Although I am an atheist, I consider myself to be spiritual. It is as if these people are angels and they seem to have great insight about emotional pain and what might help you heal. My guess is that these individuals have suffered and that they fully understand the human condition. That kind of empathy is priceless and should be embraced and appreciated. I am grateful to my friends and family members who show me love, kindness and affection. I am not ashamed or too proud to ask for it when I need it.
- Pets — a gift to humanity. These selfless animals that love us unconditionally can provide a tremendous amount of emotional support. The hardest part is saying goodbye when their short lives end. (I’m at a B&B with Sasha this weekend. I come to see Sasha whenever I need a pooch love fix. Sasha carries around a rubber pig in her mouth. Having you wrestle the pig out of her mouth and throwing it as far as you can, gives her great joy — this is the best kind of therapy.)
- Being Good to Yourself — Do nice things for yourself and it will help you feel better. I admit that there are times that I make an attempt to treat myself to a nice meal or concert and end up going home; however, I do congratulate myself for trying. An early therapist taught me how to say, “I love you to myself,” frankly it was awkward and difficult at first. At a certain point I actually started to believe it and now I recognize how important it is to feel this way about yourself. It will give you tremendous strength and comfort. It feels like the love of a true friend.
- Temporary Escape — I recently suffered a loss and could not stay in my apartment overnight; I was way too upset. I went to a bed and breakfast for the night and slept. Sleep is very important when you are in distress. Sometimes just removing yourself from the place where all the memories are, can be helpful. Travel can also make coping easier.
- Food — Good, delicious food works for me. I don’t mean a gallon of ice cream or gorging food; I’m talking about really good food, made with love and care. If I can cook, I’ll make it myself; otherwise, I take myself to a place where I know the food is beautifully prepared. A good bottle of wine only makes it better.
- Recreational Activities — Doing anything physical makes me feel better: walking, biking, hiking, the gym, swimming, skiing, tennis; the list is endless. Do it with someone you enjoy being with and it’s even more therapeutic.
The Good that Comes from Coping
I hate when people say things like, “This will build character” or “Time heals all wounds.” Of course I know that it’s true, but it doesn’t make me feel any better to hear it. What I prefer to hear is, “I’m here if you need me or if you want to talk.” What that tells me is that they care and that they understand what I need. There are some good things that come out of coping or healing:
- we strengthen our inner resolve
- we prove to ourselves that we can overcome adversity
- we become a little stronger and better equipped to handle adversity the next time around
- we get to know ourselves better
- it helps us to concentrate on lasting positive memories
- we are able to congratulate ourselves
- people who might be going through similar angst will be inspired
- it reminds me that I’m human
- it helps me to appreciate and be grateful for the many good things
I found this piece informative:
The internet is full of good articles on pain; emotional and physical.
Catania, Sicily, October 1