“The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.” Mother Teresa.
I just read an article on Facebook about mothers of autistic kids having problems as they realize they are also autistic and have never been diagnosed themselves. The article talks about the same social problems in the mothers as the children deal with and how that can end up leading to their children being taken away as professionals get frustrated with them or fear for the child’s safety. How very sad. It is no wonder that people fall through cracks and don’t get the help they need.
I wish this was just an isolated case with this specific population. But it’s not. It certainly isn’t with people who have chronic pain. Imagine, day after day, year after year, being in pain, and no one having answers or relief for you. Do you remember the last time you had a bad night’s sleep? Do you remember the last time you had a doozy of a headache? What about nausea? What about all of those combined for what seems like forever? Going to specialist after specialist, trying scores of medications, or new meditations, or books or supplements and never finding relief. Or worse, finding a tiny bit of relief but having whatever was working stop. Or you get relief from what ails you only to have a slew of side effects. How would you feel?
There were days that I would go home at lunch, exhausted, and take off my shoes and bra because having them on was almost unbearable. Or days of not turning on the lights or tv/radio because any extra stimuli was so painful. Days of barely speaking to people at work or talking to people in my family. It was a struggle just to get up every morning, through several alarms, shower, and get to work on time.
And days for appointments, I sat with a mixture of depression, angst, pain, fear, anger, and hopelessness. Every new pill was a hope and then a failure. There would be days that I would drive all the way to the specialist and wait for hours because of someone else having an emergency that day. I got it, but it didn’t help. Or a stay at the hospital and being stuck on a unit that wasn’t equipped to handle to protocols needed to deal with the weeks and months of pain.
Loneliness is such an ingrained part of chronic pain. You stay away from people because you don’t want to snap at someone or you don’t want them to trigger your pain. You shy away and eventually lose contact with friends because you don’t want to disappoint them again with cancelling at the last minute. Some days, even the closest people’s touch feels unbearable and yet, it is the thing that you long for.
One of the most helpful things we can try to do is have self-compassion. Accepting today’s lack of energy or being grateful for pain lowering to a level of 6 out of 10. One thing I do try to practice daily is a practice called Lojong (see Pema Chodron for more information). In this practice, you make a conscious intention that if you have to have pain, that you have it so others don’t have to have it. And you do visualizations or meditations on breathing in the pain or suffering and sending out or breathing out something positive like peace, coping, etc.
Another practice I try, especially when I have spent all my reserves and have nothing left to give, is connecting to the pain on a more global level. I learned this from an audiobook by Stephen Levine. He relates a story where a woman in excruciating pain in her lower back meditates on women all over the world who are experiencing in the same pain. Maybe a woman in Africa, laying in a hut, in pain, giving birth. Or a man carrying water home to his family from a long off well. In doing so, Stephen helps us to move from “our pain” to “the pain” or our shared pain, helping us to both acknowledge it moment to moment and to be in a detached place where we experience the pain but don’t stay owned by it.
How do you cope with the loneliness of your spiritual, physical, psychological, biological pain? How do you balance taking care of yourself and taking care of others? What skills have you learned to cope with a shrinking world of pain or feelings that can be bigger than the ocean? If you struggle with pain, what do you want others to know, to help you be less lonely? How do you practice self-love or self-compassion to help combat the pain you experience?
With you peace and comfort during your journey.