Easing Pain

Friday, December 02, 2011

I’m pondering a couple of words this morning: Writing and pain.

I almost didn’t publicly post Wednesday’s journal on losing my glasses. It seemed crazy. I don’t want people to get the wrong idea about my state of mind. I worry enough! Yet, these life challenges push one’s state of mind to funny edges. Writing and pain.

Writing works for me. I find myself giving voice to the inner workings of my mind and worries. It releases the not so important stuff that can clog my psyche. Or the fear. Or the crazy things. Or the pain. I have lots of friends who remind me that I can call to talk. But talking isn’t my release. It’s writing and crying. Words hit the page when I am overloaded by thinking. Crying hits the eyes when I am overloaded emotionally. Both are cathartic. Often the writing spills over into tears.

When I am “done;” that is, the writing reaches it momentary conclusion, I always feel better. When I post it that is my telephone call, the listening ear, the silent friend who can give witness to pain. In this case, the pain of grief and of anticipated loss. How many times have I read that what we need in grief is someone to sit silently and be? That’s what the pen and paper do for me.

Pain also needs a silent witness. Both emotional pain and physical pain. They manifest differently but I think I can see how similar they are. Pain makes us withdraw, become small and singular. It is why a caregiver or mourner wants to isolate herself. The attention is inward. Once we can turn it outward for solutions it is less powerful over us.

Dave is showing pain lately. He can’t get comfortable. His skin hurts. There is no padding on his body. I watch him sit up and lay down. He’ll lean sideways, propped on pillows seeking relief. His attention goes inward. He speaks less. He sleeps more. He adds an extra pain pill to his day. When the pain breaks, you can see the change just as if a fever is released with an outpouring of sweat. Color returns. A voice can be heard. His soul is back as if it had never left.

Sometimes the pain creeps up on us. In fact, most times the pain creeps up slowly and quietly as it takes over.  There is just a feeling that something is not right, life is half a bubble off of level. For Dave, it can be physical. For me, it is usually emotional. Either way there comes a distance between self and world.

Writing is my pain pill. After I post my rambling I take another step forward. Writing targets where the hurt hides. So I haven’t found my glasses (after Wednesday’s journal), but I did find that the fog of both physical and emotional pain was getting in my way for walking that day’s path. It was a momentary stop along my way.

There are lots of stops along the way. Those are the ones I usually write about. Some last longer than others. When I write, the distracting stop is shorter, and the planned lingering is longer. Lingering is the story of memories and legacy worth preserving. This hurt is good, a pain of growth.

I tried to dial the number for a phone-a-friend call this week. I didn’t let it go through. I’m better at writing. Do I want someone to listen or to fix it? That’s a good question. (This is the marriage saving question for long talks between Dave and me over the years!) When I write, I get to choose – am I looking to fix the pain or do I want someone to listen? Even if the listener is just me.

* * * * *

I’ve been lurking among several conversations of grief and creativity lately. I have opened the journal community for giving voices to grief. I have been reformulating my viewpoint on loss in new ways. As I move forward in this part of life I am looking for new avenues ofexpression. I am feeling my creative process is seeking to emerge, to erupt. I just don’t know how quite yet. This is how I know that I am fluid in grief and in life. It is stagnation that can be devastating.

Nesting comes to mind, too. Comfort (food, shopping, gatherings). Creativity (art, writing, music, expression). Preparations (legacy, story, order). Philosophy (spirituality, beliefs, values).  I parallel birth and death frequently in my thoughts. Birth and death both have a thin line of before and after. They are change agents. Nothing can ever be the same again.

* * * * *

Addendum: I realize that one of the top reasons I am feeling so much better this morning is not only through the writing process but a conscious ongoing self-care program, too. I am fortunate to have regularly scheduled housekeeping and massage. Yesterday the house was put back in order – fresh and clean – and I had an hour of pure relaxation. It’s like having all the stars align for a positive energy flow!

I also exercise with friends, try to eat healthy (or at least counterbalance the bad foods), maintain sleep and even nap as needed. This total care package cannot be underestimated for how I am coping. For those active as caregivers, or feeling the ongoing stress of loss, it is worth seeking out regular, scheduled support for your mind, body and spirit (and house). If you can’t afford private help, chore services, churches and local hospice organizations often have volunteers to lend you a hand, even if just once a month. Walking with friends or the dog, and book clubs are free. Hobbies, puzzles and doing things to relax for even an hour a week can be an important de-stress for the mind; it’s a shift of brain hemispheres. Of course, pen and paper are cheap! Physical health is critical, too (don’t I know this?!) so I justify massage as a “medical expense” for my well-being and health.

Peace of mind goes a long way to helping you take care of yourself so you can take care of others. Find room to care for all three – your mind, your body and your spirit – in your schedule.  If one area of care slips, as has my exercise program over the last few months due to health, then you’ll need to assess again what to adjust to your changing life.

Now, I’m off to the gym to meet my friend.


2 replies
  1. Liz G
    Liz G says:

    Hi Joan, I just wanted to say “Thank you” for writing online. I just finished reading your journal entry about how writing helps as an outlet for pain, physical or emotional. You must have described everything I’ve been feeling over the past year but I do not express very well with my voice. I’ve been seriously thinking about writing on a regular basis about my pain and grief to help deal with it because I feel like I should be at a better place right now mentally because some time has gone by since……

    Well, a little history first. My Dad passed away last November 29, 2010 after being diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer (he quit smoking in 1989, but was a fireman for 20 years) but it wasn’t the diagnoses that he died from, while waiting for his first radiation treatment he contracted an infection that took over his system, and, after a couple of days in hospice, passed away. Making the decision for hospice has left me feeling like I caused his passing, but at the time the doctors said his organs were failing. He could hardly speak, due to a tumor in his esophagus. So I’ll never really know if this was what he wanted. When he was dx with the cancer, before the infection, the doctor told us he had a year, maybe more. Then, boom, out of the blue he was gone within two weeks of that day. He let me know after his dx that he did not want to waste away like he watched his friend Jack, whom he took care of a couple of years ago. I promised him that when we went back home, (his house) I would do everything humanly possible to make him comfortable. I planned to stay at his house where he lived 100 miles away from me, till this was over and take care of him. But things changed very fast after he was admitted to the hospital the day after Thanksgiving with the infection. He had no will and my sister and I had to make the decision for hospice. I don’t recommend this, I am struggling to live with it. I even thought of getting his medical record from the hospital to see if he had any other options, because at the time, I don’t think I was fully functioning mentally, I was so angry of what was happening. Today, it baffles me how I was so angry, not at my Dad, but of what was happening. My poor sister took the brunt of my anger unfortunately. Thank God we have a good relationship today, we support each other in our grief.

    In March of this year, 22nd, 2011, Mom passed away in her sleep at 68 years old. Well at that point I didn’t want to live with the pain I was in, I don’t know how my sister and I got through this year. Being the holiday season, I just want to crawl into a hole and not come out till the middle of January 2012.

    But life won’t let me and this is a good thing. What you wrote shocked me because you described the feelings better than I ever could and I was just compelled to write and
    Thank you.

    I couldn’t find where to post, so I just clicked on your email address, I hope you don’t mind. Feel free to post this if you’d like.

    Take care,
    Liz G.

    • joan
      joan says:

      Hello Liz,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to write. Your words are very encouraging to me and I am so pleased to know you can relate to my experience.

      I am sorry to hear of your losses. Both are still recent in terms of time and grief, so don’t be too hard on yourself. I am glad you and your sister have each other for support.

      I invite you to join me in writing on the Storybooks for Healing community. We are just getting started. This is a safe place to explore you own grief and assist others through what you have learned and set some direction for living with loss. I am building resources and opportunities for story and healing. Bring your sister, too!

      I want to reassure you that making the decision for hospice care does not cause death. I have a feeling that you did do everything “humanly possible” to make your dad comfortable. There just wasn’t more time to do the care you would have wished to provide for him.

      I know the feeling of wanting to just emerge in January 2012 with all this “holiday spirit” around. But like you said, life just won’t let me. And yes, that is a great thing!

      I hope to see you writing in the community.



      PS. Thanks for permission to post this. I will, because it encourages others to share their story! Much peace to you.


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