How to handle intractable, constant pain? With daily life and age, with simply having pain as a constant companion, it builds and erupts like an active volcano.
Some readers may relate personally or know of someone who lives with high levels of pain. The mind can do wonders with managing it...for awhile. This nothing consecrated Catholic hermit has written in previous posts of this on-going challenge: pain. In answer to a reader's quest as to what do Catholic hermits do...this one does constant pain. It suffers.
The symptoms of the rise in pain are deceptive. Some contemporary approaches to pain management include considering the pain as the enemy or something evil to be battled and even killed. However, over the past nearly 31 years, His Real Presence has spoken to this hermit in various ways, including directly; the message is always one of peace and acceptance, of embrace and love.
Years ago, when the pain was more fresh and raw, the body, mind, and emotions found it to be alien and extreme. After a couple of years of its constancy and through the many efforts of others to try to find some kind of reversal or remedy, the hermit started to forget what it was like to not have pain. That was a great blessing from God. Best not to remember how the body felt before.
Over the years, the mind, heart, and spirit continue to alter, adjust, and adapt to the pain that increases in severity. This fact has physiological reasons, such as arthritis in the areas of surgery and injury, added injuries, illnesses, and surgeries as life progresses, the weariness that comes with age, and changes in life circumstances and phases of a psychological and emotional aspect through which we all pass in varying degrees of tribulation and success.
On the other hand, if we are managing our pain (or whatever chronic challenge) from mainly a spiritual viewpoint and spiritual management plan, our increase of spiritual growth and faith should conceivably help off-set the increase in pain from additional physiological, psychological, and emotional suffering.
Yet chronic, physical pain tends to be a most powerful "marker" in our lives. Pain such as that can rise and be out of control. The mind and emotions are not able to subdue it; the pain chips at the foundation of the spirit--no matter how much faith and spiritual understanding, virtues, and maturity of soul. The physical can and does disrupt the mind and emotions at certain points in the process.
We might consider the phenomenon of "fire walkers". They use mind over matter. But have we considered that they do not step out onto the walkway of burning coals and just stand there? If they did, now long could their minds and emotions rule over the pain of their burning feet? Cause and effect are valid realities.
When physical pain (or presumably mental or emotional pain) becomes so severe, or over the longevity of managing severe, chronic pain the mind and emotions and spirit have difficulty managing it, the mind desires earthly release from the body.
Wishing for physical death increases during the worst of the pain eruptions or sieges. The thoughts are quite understandable to those who either have such pain or who are the rare ones able to help carry the cross of ones who do have such pain.
Especially in the later years, when there are not the responsibilities such as having to endure because of children dependent upon the sufferer, or a career that the sufferer is still able to fulfill, or a spouse who loves and relies upon the sufferer to endure--and also who assists the sufferer in making life physically more bearable--the person who lives with severe pain, all the more can desire release.
The very spiritual pain bearers can look to eternity where we are promised relief from bodily pain, and realize that the work of prayer could also be done on the other side--and probably done in far more effective and unhindered ways. But these are the thoughts and assumptions of the pain bearer who thinks from the perspective on this side of the elusive veil between the earthly temporal and the eternally, exclusively spiritual.
The nothing Catholic hermit is at this point of existence with pain. Such a desire and longing it has to not only be seeking the things of God, but also, more so, to be with and in God--and without its physical body. The hermit has worked through all its own reasons--logical, theological--as to why it could do far more good on the other side, as well. The hermit has extensively worked through seemingly all in anagogical consideration.
Yet His Real Presence has not released the hermit from its earthly body and abode, nor from its human trials and sufferings. The thoughts of suicide do come readily enough, when the pain goes beyond what the body, mind, and emotions can bear. Despite praying and consciously knowing that suicide is not a holy response to such suffering in the pain sieges, in the past couple of years that has become a strong temptation.
An antidote is necessary to such thoughts and inclinations. Even though there are no viable medications that will remove the severe pain with all its incumbent, negative effects, the hermit has come to a plan of managing these increasingly powerful pain sieges, by giving in to the previous tough love approach of gutting them out. Now the hermit, when the dark thoughts present within as a means of getting out of the too-much-to-bear pain, it uses the medication the doctors have prescribed to higher degree in order to be "knocked out" for a few hours or more.
The hermit is reminded of early on in the pain management efforts, over 31 years ago. The doctor would give a hefty injection of synthetic morphine plus a drug that helps the morphine act faster and stronger. He experimented some at first, in order to come up with the dose that would "knock out" the then-not-yet-hermit. After a day or two or three, the hermit would have experienced enough physical pain relief to be able to pick up and continue on with daily life. The mind and emotions and spirit were once more on top of the bodily pain than the pain on top of the mind, heart, and spirit.
With the rise of people who use such medications illegally and without actual physical need, and without doctors who knew the patient as well and followed it prior, during, and after the back surgeries, receiving adequate pain medication is typically not feasible. Some people who know or interact with those who live with chronic pain, and their severe pain that cycles through phases, may be able to comprehend the ordeal and recognize the frustrations of and with the medical profession. There is also the frustration with those who use medications for the wrong purposes. Even if family and friends who comprehend the frustrations and issues of someone with legitimate, high-level, chronic pain and who they try to help, the heaviness of person's pain can get to be too much for these compassionate souls to handle. They, too, need some relief.
When pain medications and other supplementary aids such as prescription anti-inflammatories and various sedatives and relaxants are given to legitimate patients, there are stiff laws for the patient and also for doctors whose records are carefully scrutinized. Some states require patients read and sign pages of legal documents regarding use and possession of pain relievers. Patients are warned to hide their medications and never let others know they use them, as they will be targets for thefts. These considerations place the patient in a yet more vulnerable position in trying to deal with increasing pain due to age and additional bodily ails.
The current status of this nothing Catholic hermit with its severe pain and pain management, is to continue to unite its suffering with the suffering of Jesus Christ. This week, for example, it hopes and prays that a friend (who had left a message asking the hermit for prayers for a possible cracked vertebra, and on the evening of an airplane trip to visit an adult son and his family) has had relief from the back pain and a healing. The hermit hopes that its own unexpected, high increase of back pain this week is because God has granted the hermit to bear the pain instead of the friend having to bear it. This type of phenomenon has specifically occurred in past pain sieges as vicarious suffering, or reparative suffering.
Such prayers and hopes are nothing more or less than being a Simon of Cyrene and also desiring to unite with Jesus in bearing the sufferings of others--a form of healing desire and healing outcome.
But the nothing Catholic hermit did, this time, enforce a plan it had considered for several months. When the physical pain becomes mentally and emotionally unbearable, to humble itself and know that a day or two or three will be lost, and the hermit will be in bed--but to take the amount of medication that its early-on physician said to take in order to "knock out." Yesterday and today that seemed to help, despite the hermit not thrilled with side effects and incapacitation.
However, suffering the side effects and being bed-ridden for awhile and unconscious for some hours, is helpful for the mind and emotions and spirit to have relief and total rest for the body. Gone are the dark thoughts that can become too risky to allow. The hermit rests deeply in the arms of the Savior, lifted up and held with and by Him on His Cross while He holds snug and close the unconscious hermit and its spine-cross, as well.
Was there too much pride in the hermit--pride that it could manage high levels of pain as it ages or as the pain increasingly heightens? Yes, the hermit has surely been deceived by pride in what it could handle. The humble path is always the better, and after twice in two weeks, having to stop struggling with the pain, the hermit is accepting and embracing the pain as well as the temporal means to receive short-term relief enough for the body, mind, heart, and spirit to adequately rest and rejuvenate.
The hermit can replace the dark thoughts that filled its beaten-by-pain mind and heart, with fresh prayers for others and a peace that in a little while, the bodily pain will seem less and the spirit more--the spirit renewed and imbued with the things of God and God's Beautiful.
Sometimes we may not like to give in to what we think we ought to be able to handle by our minds and hearts and spirits, but His Real Presence teaches and perfects us in our weakness. God bless His Real Presence in us! Little children, let us love one another as God loves each of us! Remain in His Love no matter in what repose--standing on our two feet and being physically productive, or limp and mindlessly asleep in His strong embrace.
Yes, perhaps it is not so much that a pain-bearer learn to embrace his or her cross of pain, but of learning to let go the control and allow His Real Presence to embrace the pain-bearer and his or her cross, in totality of His Love.