Months after separating from my husband, I still wasn’t doing much better than the first night I spent alone. The pain persisted, and most nights ended in a storm of tears that could only be quelled by a pill or alcohol-induced sleep. Mornings weren’t much better, though they were manageable if only I could get through the first couple of hours wherein I obsessed over various ways to end my life, and end all this pain. I fared slightly better in the afternoons, but I was unraveling, and on the verge of losing more than just my marriage and my health. I was close to losing my sanity, not to mention my job and any chance of surviving on my own. I missed many days of work, and to make matters worse, I wasn’t just in emotional pain, but a debilitating physical pain as well.
The body and mind are one, and emotional pain often brings on physical symptoms, including pain. Dormant viruses can be triggered into action by stress, and it is not uncommon for women going through a stressful situation to experience a multitude of illnesses, from fibromyalgia to migraine and IBS. In my case, the Herpes Zoster virus (the same one that causes chickenpox and shingles) became active, leaving me with agonizing pain all over my body that seemed to come and go as it pleased. Without going into the details of herpetic neuralgia, its only real symptom is extreme nerve pain. I found it rather ironic that this is the way my body chose to react to stress, since of course my nerves were both literally and figuratively shot.
Learning to Manage the Pain We Can’t Suppress
Extreme pain, whether it is physical or emotional, is something that we can’t always get rid of. Sometimes all we can do is learn to manage it. If you’re very ill and you have the luxury of taking the time off work you need to recover, you’re one of the fortunate few. For everyone else, we have to cope with the realities of life no matter what kind of pain we may be suffering. It is hard to go to work and talk to people with a smile on your face when inside you feel like you’re dying. Concentration is impossible. And all around you are people with petty issues like where to order lunch, affronting you with their over-enthusiastic how are you’s?! that almost make your head explode. You could scream and drop to the floor in sobs, in frustration and anguish. But you can’t do that at work, and so instead, you brave a half-hearted smile and try to make it through the day. You worry that your boss will think you’re weak, or worse, dispensable.
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While it may seem like stifling your tears and hiding the pain is the only way out of not losing your job, a better solution is to manage the pain you have in the best way that works for you, I used to wake up to the dreaded awful blare of my alarm clock and the first thing I would do is scream into my pillow. I screamed for five full minutes, and sobbed violently for ten more. But at the end of that fifteen minutes, I calmed myself, drank my coffee, and took a relaxing shower before I went to work. Exploding in the privacy of my home early made it much less likely that I would have an eruption of emotion at work. It’s crucial to schedule time to cry, and meltdown. If you don’t, you’re setting yourself up to be a ticking time bomb. I learned that if the day was particularly hard, I fared better if I found some quiet place at lunch where I could cry if I needed to, or call my mother, or a friend. I repeated the same morning scene at night, but not just before sleeping. Your body doesn’t want the last thing you do at night to be violent. I determined to schedule my emotional fits before dinner, then told myself, “ok, you’ve had enough. This is a quiet place now, and it’s time to calm down and make dinner.” This made it a little easier to fall asleep later, so that instead of drowning in a sea of tears that would only make me congested and puffy-eyed in the morning, the tears had already fallen. I learned to avoid emotional triggers that would interrupt my schedule, like certain movies and television shows, and songs on the radio. I drove a different route to work, and comforted myself with small pleasures. I bought myself fresh flowers on the way home, and only wore very soft clothes. None of this made the pain disappear, but it made it more bearable, and at the time, that was the goal.
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Caring for the Mind and the Body
On days where the pain is physical too, you have to manage yourself especially well. Listen to your body. I couldn’t cure my illness, but I could do things to support my immune system and my overall health during the suffering. I found it difficult to eat during that time, so I bought a juicer and committed to taking the extra fifteen minutes it would take to juice and drink a morning glass of vegetable juice. Loud noises and bright lights exacerbated my condition, so I installed dimmers, and removed all electronics from my bedroom. I made my living space a nicer place to take solace, and sometimes these little things can add up to make a difference in your level of discomfort
If I had a magic formula that would take away my own pan and everyone else’s, I would use it, But I know that all humans suffer at times, and all suffering eventually comes to an end. Yet in this moment, help yourself get through this. Be your own manager, and by doing so, you will manage to make it through.