When Healing Our Body Is Not an Option, We Still Can Heal From the Inside

sun-rays-shining-through-treesI was once told that the sun shining through the trees had healing qualities. That the act of partially blocking out of the sun as its rays emit through the green helped with emotional release. I always thought this was a myth—a beautiful story I was told in adolescence to make me feel better. Still, the great Egyptian architects anchored their constructions towards the sun’s rays; human beings evolved as a result of it, and worshiped it as a conduit of healing including the sun god Apollo who was also the god of medicine. The emotional healing of chronic pain or illness is much like the blocking of the sun through the trees. In order to move forward in this world and in your life, we have to learn to live with an impasse, to let the light in, and move towards healing even if we would like nothing better than to stop the world spinning on its axis. Grief therapy tells us to contemplate and discover meaning in our new fate.  I don’t believe in everything happens for a reason or everything is a lesson yet to be learned. Nor, do I believe that if you just keep smiling, you’ll start to feel it on the inside. Rather, I believe in acknowledging the wound, granting yourself the permission to mourn, and then building a bridge to somehow make it back to the other side.  The one thing that remains clear when illness invades your life is that everything is transformed, covered in dust and debris, from the role you once played in society to your ability to find meaning in life.

Up until resuming work on this blog, I kept my connections between my world of the sick and of the well separate. There were times where the sick world mercilessly seeped out like having a severe bout of shingles before the age of 30 brought on by constant widespread inflammation in my body. I had to yet again withdraw from “destination healthy” until further notice. I guess you could say that I was constantly building bridges and then turning around and burning my creation. Although I chose my career as a conduit for improving the lives of the fellow disabled, I kept my own struggles with my body mostly hidden from those I interacted with.  It was in this forum that I was able to finally articulate my own illness narrative—to see the path I’ve abandoned was not destroyed but remade. I’ve come to learn that healing is about validation.  I am not talking about validation from others. It would be nice to feel less abandoned, understood, and that everyone cares about chronic pain and illness, that we all can recognize that we are one genetic trait turned on, one car accident, and one slip of the foot away from having, loving someone, or living with disability. However, I am talking about acknowledging your own experience of pain and illness, your own corporeal experience, and to find a way to push back on the invisible landscape of the sick.  Last week, I wrote about shame and I have felt it greatly. I didn’t dare speak the words of infertility, or the romantic struggles of dating while ill or in pain, or the discrimination I have faced at the university because my body doesn’t operate at the same capacity as others because I was afraid that the world could not handle my truth and that to speak these things would result in the people I love taking pity on me, rejecting me, or offering platitudes of hope that would never materialize. But my truth is mine, the bridge I have to daily cross, and it is some of yours too.  We heal because we have too.  There is nothing we can do but acknowledge the suffering that our bodies are in. We have to constantly reflect and pocket that mirror that reveals our truth.  It isn’t fair or just but it is necessary.  For a long time after my accident, I had been ill in body and in speech.  The known was depressing and the unknown was frightening. It was though the very lung and larynx of my body had been placed on mute. But living with a chronic illness is living with a protracted highway.  Healing has to come on this path and extend beyond the near future.  It has to find a lane that allows us to brace for the worst and concede that a substantial life event occurred even if those around us can’t or won’t acknowledge it.  For many of us, we will never get off this street but some days we will turn our head to the window and see the sun shining through the green. Myth or not, we will feel better.


15 Comments Add yours

  1. Pingback: Sunlight in Winter
  2. An interesting discussion is definitely worth comment.
    I think that you need to write more about this subject matter, it might not
    be a taboo matter but generally people do not talk about such topics.
    To the next! Many thanks!!

    1. Thank you for your comment. I do plan on exploring this topic further. My blog is a combination of research and introspection. I am happy the post made an impact on you. Keep in touch and take care.

  3. Marty says:

    Well done, may I say a few things, actions, knowing we have responsibility is key. It underlies our success building that bridge and losses burning that bridge, but your actions keep healing or enduring living fully capable.

    There is so much more though you can do. I was a professional athlete, my father when I was five said I would be a pro baseball player. This was not a request, he used violence, criticism and threat of abandonment as power.

    I was raised in pain physical and emotional.
    The mind had a huge component involved with pain.

    Any negative thought or attention you give pain it increases

    What fires together wires together Rick Hanson a neuroscientist reveals.

    Think about pain and electricity, blood and other influences start building a bigger space a bigger freeway to get there.

    Pain is not human, does not possess any attitude.

    Pain is not the devil if it is you suffer more than someone with the same pain without the judgment.

    Pain is not mad at us, singling us out, it is chemical, it is electrical it is a protective response to danger

    Chronic pain by definition is disordered, not working, firing continually.

    Pain does no harm until it reaches that point of intensity where it takes over.

    Before that part can be swallowed, compressed,.

    I threw away my pills after all my spinal operations and walked to bring it out, then turn the music up and walk for another ten minutes.

    Pain became a friend, not scary not mad at me. Good luck it is not easy what you face but you can be happy I am and I hurt

    1. Hi Marty,
      Thank you for your comment. I completely agree that the mind has a huge component in pain. Mainly, some of the areas of the brain that fire in emotional distress also signal in physical stress for very complicated reasons. However, not all the neural networks activated during physical pain are activated in emotional pain and vice versa but they do overlap. It is an experience not purely physical nor purely emotional but then nothing ever is one or the other when it comes to a landscape as diverse as our brain. One of the main reasons chronic pain sufferers have a tendency to stress the physical component of pain is because of a struggle for legitimacy with an illness that has many subjective nuances. Also, “negative thoughts” do play a role in increasing pain but it goes beyond positive thinking. Although, mindfulness meditation can greatly reduce pain and is important in comprehensive thinking about pain it does not fully resolve the pain question. I completely agree that acute pain has its biological and evolutionary role. We would all be dead without it but once it crosses into the world of the chronic it is no longer beneficial. It then becomes a neurological disease. As far as neurons firing all the time with chronic pain, the research is still fairly new as to whether it is a problem with synapse or at the axon terminal. Where exactly in the brain does chronic pain come from is a question that we are getting closer to solving but are not there yet. Also pain can involve so many biological dysfunctions from MS, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Migraines, Osteoarthritis, Fibromyalgia, and Endometriosis just to name a few. So, it can be a single event, say a car accident, or a genetic or autoimmune trait component. Chronic pain is very expansive. It is true that two people can suffer the same event–say a car accident–and one person can leave the traumatic event without enduring chronic pain while the other person will have the disease of chronic pain. This does not mean that the latter is not doing enough, not thinking positive enough, or did something wrong. It simply means that there are neurological and neuromuscular differences. Why? Well, that is a question researchers are inching towards. It is a neurological difference which does not involve all the same pathways as emotional trauma but some. Where our attitude comes into play, is through coping and trying to live a full life with pain. It can certainly be done but there are many paths to this and each person is unique in their own coping. My thoughts from this post come from both acceptance and acknowledgement that grief from living with several biological diseases are on a continuum. Merely, healing is a dynamic process. It also comes from choosing a career to earn my doctorate in the biological sciences where the pathophysiology and treatments for people that are disabled has allowed me to make sense of disease. It is true that happiness and pain can live together. I believe that I am happy and have chronic pain. This comes from outlets such as painting, exercise, writing, and my career but each pain patient has to choose their own outlet and this includes talking about how pain has affected their life.

      1. Marty says:

        Excellent, I commend you for engaging me and kudos to your command of the mind.

        Let me add what a jock knows intuitively and what led me to throw my meds away and challenge a ph.d. Pain psychologist, the leader of the chronic pain group and the each pain sufferer one Tuesday night.

        Aerobic exercise, we are not speaking of world class talent, walking uphill even slowly will engage all that needs to be accomplished.

        Endorphins are secreted, poisons flushed, achievement.

        Let me share maybe not with every neuroscience justification but what can happen. If at the point of physical exhaustion, I have been walking away from my house, on purpose so when I reach my apex of pain, logistics places me as far away from quitting as possible. At this moment we have a choice, a competitive athlete lives and succeeds by pushing past this point almost daily.

        Now let me bring the mind in for help. Music is blasted, intention is, pain wants to stop my legs from moving. I walked another ten minutes, using the pain, I purposely summoned at a high level to exercise, compete against.

        Oh yes, I competed and pain was cussed, spoken to irreverently,.

        My legs moved with this pain for ten more minutes.

        Exhausted, breathing hard, pain soaring, but healing and pain compression has begun.

        I have moved, taken action while pain was present and intensified. I achieved, I feel exhilarated, accomplished I pushed my body right dead at pain and won.

        My mind all of sudden absorbs the bodies victory. Pain has changed, my bodies reinserted and fear of it have diminished and my own endorphins. Ore secreted at aerobic exhaustion have changed my relationship.

        Pain has no emotion only the ego and the ego cognitively will water and grow ur pain

        As with trauma and PTSD you have to go towards the fear, the triggers the door to living as full a life as possible.

        Pain management is not the elimination of pain, it is a plan to help live our lives as fully as possible.

        I hurt and pay for certain activities, but I love them and if no permanent damage is done, I will continue to do them and enduring that pain is uplifting

        Jocks are crazy what they have done to push the limit of mind and skill

      2. Hi Marty. Thanks for your comment. As a student of physiology with an interest and training in exercise physiology or the physiology of physical activity I have actually written about athletic performance and pain. Mainly that performance itself is greatly hampered by pain. Physiologists have studied how pain impacts performance by analyzing naturally occurring pain through accelerating the output of peak power and through administering a pain inducing drug into the muscle while monitoring performance on a cycle ergometer. Through both of these processes what they have found is that pain during exercise leads to faster fatigue at the same level of intensity. Those that have been diagnosed with diseases, such as chronic pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, or lupus, know that after exercise there is the potential for prolonged malaise even if the benefits far outweigh this initial feeling. However, exercise is one of the best treatments for chronic pain for a variety of reasons. If you feel that throwing out your meds and exercising by bringing forth more pain is healing to you than that is your choice. However, I caution against global statements. If pain is “ego” than it would be quite simple. Through my many discussions and interviews with chronic pain patients who have pain for a number of physical reasons, they have often said that they wish the pain was “all in their heads” because at least there would be a simple solution. But it is not. For example, an individual that has MS is facing not just the disease of chronic pain, but bodily deterioration in the nervous system and the muscular system, as well as fear of future degeneration. This individual cannot simply push past pain, say it is ego, and exercise. It is an autoimmune disorder that affects the brain and spinal cord through damage to the myelin sheath. This is complex. I checked out your site and I think you do offer great tips towards healing so I am not saying that you are wrong in your desire to push through your limits. This post is specifically about acknowledging the physical state, allowing for a space to say: “I hurt” “My life has changed” But pathways are unique, undetermined, and individual. I am not offering a solution or false-hope. Anyway, I wish you continued healing, success, and health. Take care and all the best to you.

  4. Reblogged this on It's a lonely place and commented:
    Such precious words shared and giving a raw/true insight to how it is to grieve and process the life of living with chronic pain x

  5. Wow what an amazing post and you are so right in what you write and I am humbled you shared all of this with us. I think mourning is important, we can’t just move on and pretend there is no sense of loss, one has to go through this, allow the emotions before moving on towards something different and I too have separated my worlds but in the world of blogging. There was a crossroads putting my chronic pain blog on my main one and i am finding more and more people on my main blog who suffer too. I havn’t chosen to completely merge the two but they are certainly closer than they were initially 🙂 Great post x

    1. Hi Justine. How are you feeling. Thank you for your touching comment. I noticed that you had two blogs when you followed me but now I completely understand. Obviously, there is more to say than just our pain experience and so I am sure that is a factor but there is also this trepidation like “maybe I shouldn’t say that” when it comes to pain but pain or not we all have these feelings and I think one primary and universal fact of life comes from being known and wanting to truly know others. As usual, healing thoughts and hugs from me.

      1. Thank you I always appreciate your comments back also 🙂 I’ve been quieter on my pain blog as of late which must be a good thing I think heh x

  6. Daisy says:

    I really enjoyed this blog post. I can relate to so much of what you wrote. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Hi Daisy. Thanks for your comment. I’m so happy that my post spoke to you. I’ve been thinking a lot about healing and grief lately as I deal with my own health setbacks and after a conversation I had with another blogger on this site. I’m really glad you commented because your posts on “The Sacred Alone” appeared in my email and in a lot of ways my post and your words have a lot in common. It is about finding a way to be okay with the future and at peace with the present if even for a moment. It may not be eternal but hope and darkness are both fleeting and there is healing to be had in each one and I think that is sacred.

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