September 9, 2018

We All Feel Pain

Is it really 'better to feel pain, than nothing at all'? –"Stubborn Love" by The Lumineers

So much of life is pain. A child's entry into the world is often a painful experience for the mother. As children, we injure ourselves learning to walk or ride a bike, and we suffer ear infections and strep throats. As teenagers, we face the emotional pain of rejection and heartbreak. As adults, we share in our children's pain as they make their own way. As we age, our feeble bodies fall victim to disease and decay.

Preventing pain—physical or emotional—is futile. Unless you live in a bubble, there is no surefire way to insulate yourself.


"Some old wounds never truly heal, and bleed again at the slightest word." –George R.R. Martin

"No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown." –William Penn

"Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional." –Buddhist proverb


So, what do these adages tell us about the human perspective on pain? "Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something." (William Goldman's The Princess Bride).

Pain is an integral part of life. We all face trials, but it is our response which defines us. Every day we live is one day closer to the day we die. What a morbid, albeit realistic, view. It is our responsibility to live each day to the fullest, to bring meaning and purpose, despite our personal difficulties and tragedies.

I am no stranger to adversity. Ten years ago, my husband was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease affecting the brain and spinal cord. This incurable disease stole my husband's ability to work, leaving him in unconscionable, chronic pain. Five years ago, I was harassed and assaulted at my workplace. The trauma I suffered, and the stark absence of support after, led to development of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, manifesting in chronic physical symptoms.

I am no stranger to pain. I know many of you share similar experiences and difficulties. I am sympathetic to your plight. I have connected with many readers whose lives are impacted by chronic pain. Most people do not understand the misery that accompanies lingering disease or injury. They cannot begin to comprehend the feeling of loss and frustration, the isolation, and the devastation. A health crisis takes from your life. When you become ill and unable to work, you lose more than financial stability. You lose friends. You lose ability. You lose purpose. These things are stolen from you. You are the only one who can take them back.

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said: "That which does not kill us, makes us stronger." A harsh observation indeed. What I have learned is that I am much stronger than I ever thought possible. I struggle to complete ordinary daily activities and endure unfathomable agony for my efforts. I am limited in what I can do. Even pleasurable activities come at a cost. The requisites to writing—clear mindset, ability to concentrate and focus, being in a good emotional place—I often lack and cannot implement at will. My mind is at war with my body.

My internal war is not the only one I am fighting. I have also spoken up against the abuse—the systematic torture—I experienced at work. With the hope of preventing what happened to me from happening to anyone else, I have taken my employer to task with the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Tribunal. This fight exacts a high price. One I have paid with my health.

I must do the right thing. I cannot do less.

Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick's story is an apt illustration of the cost of standing up for your beliefs. In 2016, he knelt during the national anthem in protest against social injustice, especially for the police brutality of African-Americans. Kaepernick opted out of the final season of his contract with the 49ers in March 2017 to become a free agent, but no other NFL team has signed him, most likely due to his activism.

Life is precious. Life is not perfect. Life is made to be lived. And, at the end of the day, you have to live with yourself and the choices you've made. I can live with myself. Can you?

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