My grandmother's sister is 84 years old going on 74. She was always known for her good looks, straight black hair, soft hazel eyes, light olive skin that is still tight around her face (she says it’s due to Neutrogena AM/PM that you can purchase with a coupon at CVS). Up until recently she was still working as a volunteer in a hospital kitchen (she doesn’t like being around sick people so the kitchen was the perfect place to spend her mornings) and going to the Gym, 4 days a week doing a routine that includes weightlifting, the treadmill and talking to everyone around her. I come from a Matriarchy and like most women in my family she worked from a young age and is used to getting things done her way in other words you don’t want to make her angry.
I interviewed her for my podcast beacuase I admire this women so much but I never released it because she didn’t want to speak in English. One of the questions I asked her was: What have you learned about life? she answered “That life is a great surprise. That when you are young you don’t appreciate what’s important but the older you get the more you cherish every moment and if you want to do something in life, you go and do it”
A year ago she was diagnosed with Shingles, she laid in bed for months without being able to move from the pain in her ribs and back. I would visit her and sit by her side to help her breathe through the pain she would usually fall asleep through the exercises. Her husband a man who doesn’t know how to talk only how to scream, a man who is rough around the edges but completely soft and loving on the inside called me once to tell me “The Drs. Think it’s all in her head, she has had pain way longer than usual. So I was thinking- she was once hypnotized at a show and is very susceptible to those things so maybe you can hypnotize her and make her forget the pain?” “Sorry,” I said, “Hypnotizing is not really my area of expertise”. I could hear the disappointment in his voice.
On a Tuesday morning I knocked at her door, nobody was answering but eventually, she came to open the brown wooden door and I could see something was wrong. Tears were running down her face as she said: “a Doctor just told me I would have this pain forever.” I looked her straight in the eyes and told her “Impossible. This body is not forever so this pain won’t stay forever. So let the pain remind you that you have this body, that you have so many people who you love and love you back” I wasn’t sure how she would take my comment but she looked at me and said “you are right. I get to live” Today when you ask her how she is doing she says “Great, just great! the pain is there but I just ignore it” She truly is one of the most positive people I have ever met. She says the key to positivity is “not to even contemplate on the negative”.
Pain, death, and life are glued together. No way to separate them from each other.
I know about chronic pain from personal experience. I have a labral tear in my hip that bounces around like a pinball through my body. Some days it’s my upper back, hip flexor, knees, neck. For the longest time I wanted somebody to fix me I tried Orthopedics, Chiropractors, PT, Acupuncturist I spent my time and money determined in making my pain go away. One wrong twist and I can’t walk up the stairs for a week. Even if I don’t exercise some nights I can’t sleep from the pain that runs through my back. Somewhere along the way, I gave up on somebody fixing me and instead started to pay more attention to what caused pain. Started to develop a more tolerant relationship with my body.
One day I was telling Jimmy how sad I felt that my body wasn’t healthier, that my thyroid is slow and my heart sometimes beats a little to fast, that my knee hurts, and my upper back is so tight. I paused and thought to myself I'm getting waaaay to attached to this body. This is what I got. This pain is what I have, not who I am. It’s the card I was dealt. Would I have picked this card? Absolutely not. Could this card be worse? Absolutely yes. But we don’t get to choose. There’s no disease potluck in which you pick the one that suits you.
You are given a life and with it, you are given pain. That’s it. Let not sugar coat it. The pain is different for everybody for some it comes and goes, for others it's chronic, emotional etc. and I guess sometimes the pain is so bad we would rather die, but in most cases, the pain becomes bearable with time. If we stop looking at the pain as our enemy but as a passenger in our car somebody we are going to be riding with for probably a long time. If we stop resisting it, lean in. So we can work around it. Grow with it and constantly remind ourselves of the impermanence of life something shifts along the way.
Wherever you are in your pain journey I invite you to stop trying to get rid of it. It’s a radical approach.