No Prize for Pain

Posted on April 26, 2019 by

You know what I’m noticing?
I’m finally reaching college levels of productivity again.
In my junior year of college I was doing really well, by many standards. Yes, I had depression and anxiety, yes I was probably underslept. But I was singing, I was working, I was skiing, I was going to class. My classes were good, my social routines were good, I was eating well, I had a single (finally!) so I could sleep well.
You should have seen my lagniappe. At Carleton, a Lagniappe was a planner that arrived as an unexpected surprise (ok, after the first year it was totally expected) in every student’s mailbox, with all the important college dates written in. Mine was black with ink, plans, commitments, due dates, everything. And I discovered that I worked really well going from task to task to task, and then having things and moments where I just laid on the Bald Spot (our quad, it got a lot of foot traffic) and let it all sink in.
Then…things happened. It doesn’t matter so much the details as just knowing that they did, they were hard, they were traumatic and disruptive, and my life began to come apart.
It stayed traumatically dismembered for a very long time, going from crisis to crisis like it was swinging across a long (very long) set of monkey bars, where the only thing that kept me from falling was ironically also the proximity of one disaster to the next.
I came out of it briefly for a year when I lived in Minneapolis, then dived back under.
It’s hard to realize that there was that much trauma over those 15 or 20 years. It’s hard, because even now that’s not how I see myself.
To be honest, the alternative isn’t much better: I have a bad tendency to see myself mostly as a failed adult. But when I’m honest, I did a pretty good job of at least surviving as wave after wave crashed over me and I tried not to drown, either in my own depression or in the circumstances that surrounded and eventually nearly consumed me.
But my calendar was not covered in appointments.
I became protective of each moment, of every day, of the gaps and the spaces that let me rest enough to do what needed to be done.
Everything needed massive padding around it.
Some tasks could only be done in an otherwise empty day.
Spoon Theory (by Christine Miserandino had become deeply important, vital to my survival. I survived it, but I had to be vigilant all the time. The very real depression I had was consuming any resources I didn’t use and many that I did.
Fast forward again, and the most important thing I did was recognize that there was no prize for being tortured. There really isn’t. That’s not to say that the depression didn’t need other treatment. Years of trauma-informed therapy with an experienced therapist, work with a naturopath, homeopathy, acupuncture, and personal growth work. Also touch. But even as the depression ebbed, something tugged at me. There’s no prize for struggle, no valor in desperation. Somehow I had been trying to do things the hard way for a very long time. I think that’s a value I absorbed from my father, who tends to make things hard so he learns/grows/gets stronger/whatever. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A few challenges keep you from getting bored but mostly that level of struggle is damaging or even unhealthy. Current neurological research shows that brains get altered–damaged–by continuous pain, and that emotional and physical pain are virtually indistinguishable in the brain. You can even take painkillers to soften the crushing ache of a broken heart.
So if there’s no prize for pain, I should move where people accept me.
If there’s no prize for pain, I should do work that delights me.
…and charge a sustainable rate.
If there’s no prize for pain, I should give myself enough sleep, the right food, and the necessary care.
If there’s no prize for pain, I should do what I need to do to make money without shame.
If there’s no prize for pain
then there’s no penalty for turning away from pain.
If I can learn something, great.
If I can grow, great.
But there’s no need to make it extra hard.
I’ve been in California, in permanent housing, for 2 years this week.
I have a beloved whom I love very much.
I have a roof over my head.
I have use of a car.
The sun comes up, and outside my window a tree bursts into leafy abundance.
I travel a lot, but I always come home.
And this week–THIS WEEK–as I approach my 44th birthday and the world comes to life around me, I am finally able to slip administrative tasks between the appointments on my calendar. I’m finally able to contemplate doing something every day. I’m finally approaching healing.
I can’t say what got me here, or how long it will last (forever, maybe). It could be the health hypnosis session we did in class two weeks ago. It could be the slow and steady work toward health I’ve been doing otherwise. It could be having a partner who loves me for long enough. It could be the sun, it could be the keto eating, it could be getting my blood sugar managed it could be a lot of things.
But I’m here.
And it’s a pleasure.