Sitting in the spa at the gym I belong to, feeling twinges in nerves that had something to say to me about my workout last night, I realized the level of discipline I have accepted in my life. Most of the people that I spend time around face to face in daily life never realize how often I feel pain, nor to what degree. Most of my readers have by now seen me mention this before, but I do not know what it is like to be truly pain-free. It is a fact of life for me.
How I appear to others is calm and collected until I am in extreme distress – almost unable to stand and walk. In my life now, I have acquaintances and friends of varying degrees of capability both in body and in mental/emotional strengths. The majority of them are chronically ill with rheumatic autoimmune diseases like myself (Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Scleroderma, Fibromyalgia, various forms of blood, muscle, and connective tissue disorders) . While many of them have also learned to simply not show on the outside what is going on inside, very few do it with a genuine understanding about the Zen approach to processing distress. Those few are the closest among my friends, and they are the people that I not only share the most with, but are also the ones that inspire me to continue on this path on the more difficult days as they come along. What each of us have realized is that we have to reconnect with self completely in mind, body, and spirit in order to find the balance that leads to a reasonable quality of life. Everything in modern society is designed to disconnect various aspects of our person, compartmentalizing the pieces. We are taught dissociation as a lifestyle, and to see it as normal.
I dislike disclaimers because it almost seems apologetic. I will not apologize for speaking truths, and so all I can say is that if this message is not for you then move on. No one is required to walk the same path that I am on, but if you read a truth don’t get mad at me if it strikes a nerve. Truth is a healer, and the healing (and growth) process is not always a comfortable one. We each must decide whether it is a burning desire of our own to grow as a human person or not.
A few times in recent months I have observed negative reactions to some very insightful quotes about pain. These come from wise individuals that have walked through a lot of life to gain their insights experientially. Post something that sounds sympathetic or forlorn, and you can have a thousand friends all agreeing with you and supporting your statements. Try posting something suggesting personal responsibility, self discipline, consistent effort, serene acceptance, and a path of embracing perceived disadvantages though and you will find quickly just how much vitriol those same individuals are capable of stirring up. Anyone can get emotionally pumped up and sound positive when they feel good, but what happens when things go wrong? It’s okay to slow down if you need to, but does a bump in the road stop you cold? For that matter, does it cause you to turn around and retreat without hesitation? I stop at Stop signs when I am driving my car, but I don’t turn my car around to face the other way when I encounter one. Stops, Yields, and Cautions serve a purpose. None of them require you to make a U turn.
“There are times where one must face pain. It is a true test of devotion and faith. Pain is a war between one’s inner and outer being. Strength, however, is the overcoming and defeating of that pain without ever looking back.” ~ Zachary Zeiler
“We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.” – Kenji Miyazawa, Japanese poet and author
The Western (American) mind in particular seems to have the most difficulty with these concepts. It seems to be common practice to simply suppress pain when it happens, even disregarding the risks of serious side effects from medications. From our choices in entertainment to our medical care, everything points to the disconnect. We try to distract ourselves from discomforts, and when our minds fail to accomplish the task quickly, we turn to a chemical substance. No one is expected to endure anything, and when they do they are lauded as superhuman and brave, when really this should be the normal behavior. I am not knocking the necessary use of painkilling medication – I need it myself at times. I am however suggesting that too many people reach for it too quickly. If you disconnect, you never learn to process. Having studied martial arts and Eastern philosophy most of my life, as well as some disciplines from my Native American culture, I know that this has to be exercised just like a muscle… the ability to process. Believe me, I know real pain and I know it very well. So do the other Lupus patients that I know that are also minimally medicated and using diet and exercise to manage their illness – it’s not purely a matter of having a “mild” case of Lupus (whatever that means!) when it comes to making these choices. We have proven that it can be done, so that is not up for debate. This is why I stated above that if this message is not for you, skip it. Not everyone is ready to hear it, or enact it, or sadly even support it for others that wish to take a non-standard approach. We are all individuals. We all have our choices to make. In the end, you will live with either the rewards or the consequences of them all.
This has been my year to reconnect, by choice. I made the decision that I wanted as much of my life back as I could possibly reach. That does not mean that I am not ill, nor does it mean that I am in a constant state of “remission” (with Lupus it’s actually called clinical quiescence to be accurate), nor does it mean that I do not experience pain. I do… the same as I always have. I am having many more “good days” than I do during flares and previous out of control years, and that makes it possible for me to go out and experience life in the way that suits me best again. It is in my heart to share these things – why I make the videos, and why I blog. Don’t ever doubt the difficulty level of my adventures, because what I am doing now is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. It is multiple times more difficult at my age and with my health conditions to tackle the simplest of my athletic endeavors from 20+ years ago. It burns more energy up, it hurts more, it’s more exhausting, and mentally it is taking every bit of discipline that I have trained for over the years. I believe were it not for my interest in martial arts, and Asian philosophies, I would not know where to find the patience for dealing with the challenges I run headlong into. Albert Einstein is quoted for saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. On the one hand, he may have been correct in that we must adapt and alter our approach at times in order to achieve a result – a goal. On the other hand, sometimes we really do have to develop a stubbornness to just knuckle down, ranger up, and keep at it until it happens. That determination is what pushes us through perceived walls. They are a challenge, but often labeled a limitation. The only limitation in reality is your own decision of whether to keep getting back up or not. You can lie there and wait for the count. It’s your choice. You have one within you.. every.. single… day.
We humans are powerful little creatures from the inside. We are also fragile. There is a balance to be struck between the two, in knowing how to utilize each side of that coin for our needs, and the needs of others. When we reconnect with self, we may also reconnect with humanity. It would be the ultimate act of selfishness for me to take care of myself with no intention of ever sharing my journey with my friends and acquaintances, would it not? So to those that have spitefully become embroiled in the rages of jealousy, sour grapes, disbelief, and self-determined misery, I say this: Choose what you wish, but do not blame your suffering on anything or anyone but yourself. My words may seem harsh at times, but this understanding comes out of experience and pain, out of blood, sweat, tears, and choices, and it is hard won wisdom from which I have constructed a solid foundation. It has NEVER let me down. You may have to find it in another way. Somehow though.. you need to find it.
None of us that have reduced or stopped medication are telling anyone else to follow in our footsteps. You need to know your own health, your own body, and have a trusted physician with which to work in order to make that kind of a decision. I guarantee you however, that if you make the level-headed, well planned and circumspect decision to make this type of a change in the right way, WE WILL SUPPORT YOU. I will, even if you’ve been mean to me along the way previously. 😉 The part that some have missed is that this has been some tough love, and nothing that I do not require of myself first and foremost. I believe in being the one out front, demonstrating and not the one behind and looking on, directing. If you ever think that the latter is what I am doing, you are sorely mistaken. I do not suggest anything personally unproven.
Nerves heal, albeit slowly. I have experienced injury, damage, and surgical disconnect of nerves all. When a nerve is healing, it is not a pleasant process. It is uncomfortable and confusing. It is annoying and disruptive. It is even painful. You get sensations that make absolutely no sense – everything from cool water that isn’t there to itching or random stabs of pain. That adjustment period is necessary to the process. Our emotional nerve is just the same, and it takes deciding to exercise internal fortitude to go through it for the rewards. Without the ability to choose a “Zen”, a center, a peace about what you will walk through, it will be nothing but angry havoc. I am just here to tell you that it is possible. Reconnect. Stop running so hard from the things that you will only drag along with you as an exhausting and agonizing burden. Accepting the hand that you are dealt in life is the first step to allowing yourself to heal from the inside out. This is not a cure. It is however a way to have a life still worth living.
You decide whether you are worth your time and effort. I already believe that you are. I already believe in you. When you get there, I’ll still be here.