February 21, 2022

The One Necessary Thing that Pain & Illness Taught Me.


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As human beings, we will make a myriad of different experiences throughout life—pleasant and unpleasant ones.

While the pleasant ones are just wonderful to have and have left me feeling blessed and in awe many times, it’s usually been the unpleasant ones that have provided me with the most valuable lessons I need to learn in life.

During the last three years, I have been making the acquaintance with physical illness in a way that I didn’t expect by my mid-30s, especially because I considered myself as indestructible when it came to my health and extremely resilient to pain.

When I first started to notice some unknown pain, I simply shrugged it off, thinking that I was just going through a stressful phase and it would be nothing to worry about. After a nightly pain attack that left me crying and shaking on the bathroom floor, I got diagnosed with a pre-cancerous state and endometriosis, leading to two surgeries within three months. The second surgery additionally revealed a teratoma, a benign tumor, in one of my ovaries.

The following healing process didn’t go all that well, although medically, I was supposed to be perfectly fine. A consecutive phase of hormonal imbalance and its consequences like insomnia, anxiety, depression, racing thoughts, night sweats, and emotional lability was topped with hypochondriac fear. How should I know I was fine now, after not having noticed all of this growing inside of me? How could I ever just shrug off any feeling of physical discomfort again without having it checked?

The comments of some then close people that I should have known it all and shouldn’t even be in this situation, because I’m a therapist and yoga teacher, didn’t really help either.

It was certainly too much to process all at once at that point, leaving me in a traumatized state with a nervous system in fight-or-flight mode, always alert to detect the next potentially lethal illness. It’s a natural response to an extraordinary, potentially life-threatening situation. My survival mode was trying to protect me from overlooking or ignoring any sign of imbalance again, but going overboard, creating a phase of clinical anxiety.

This was interesting for me because as a psychotherapist, I’m usually the one helping others overcome anxiety. Seeking support plus using my own tools to stabilize a hyperreactive, autonomous nervous system worked well on the emotional and nervous system level. The pain stayed.

When you wake up in the middle of the night realizing that you started sobbing like a motherless baby during your sleep, because your body feels like it’s being torn apart and you’re almost unable to breathe, it’s hard to believe that it’s just all in your head like your MD is telling you.

The fact that my surgery scars looked perfect and my blood showed no abnormalities didn’t change that I was experiencing regular attacks of intense pain that would have me unable to move, leaving me in a state of complete despair, feeling like I would never see the light again.

Since Western medicine couldn’t provide any further help, I explored other healing traditions, finding more and more pieces that would help me rebuild myself and ease my suffering at least partially. Also, my meditation routine was incredibly helpful through this phase. During a recent meditation on my pain, I received one clear message: “Leave the environments that need you to be ill to be respected and seen!”

This sentence was like a slap in my face, although I had been aware of this pattern before.

I have stayed in unhealthy, sometimes clearly toxic, environments for way too long, although I always saw that it would not change. I’ve worked in environments where my boundaries were only respected when I explained my wish to leave on time with an illness.

I guess, if you have no children, being ill is the only reason accepted to not join the overworking, self-destructive way of life that is considered as “normal” these days. I have been in relationships where my needs were only heard when I was sick, where I was only treated in a loving and caring way when I was unable to move myself.

The worst part is that for a long time, I used to be kind of proud that I could hold on for so long. I wanted to prove that I would not break, that I could survive despite destructive circumstances. It’s a transgenerational pattern, a survival mode kicking in, seeking for a perfect playground to be of use.

And then, it feels like home during my childhood in some parts. As difficult and destructive as it is, it’s well known, and my coping mechanisms are just perfect to sustain myself in such an environment, which is what makes is so hard to leave.

I don’t want to blame anyone else these days. I have moved past this stage where I see myself as a victim. I’m not waiting for anyone else to change anymore, to finally see me and treat me like I would deserve. I know it’s up to me to treat myself in the loving and caring way that I long for and that I know I deserve. Part of this self-care is to leave the people and environments that don’t respect my boundaries when I set them clearly or need me to weaken myself to make them feel comfortable.

Will it help with my physical health condition? I have no idea, but surely, I hope so.

From time to time, I feel tired from the repeated disappointments, from the ever-returning pain and agony, the hopelessness that sometimes creeps in. But still I keep going because I know that everything is a process, and although nothing that I have done so far has brought me lasting salvation, it has shown me many new perspectives on life. But most importantly, it brought me closer to myself, closer to an authentic way of being, and deeper into the experience of living a human life.

Without the fear of dying, I wouldn’t know the gratefulness of being alive.

Without the fear of losing some of my reproductive organs, I wouldn’t cherish the miracle of being a woman so much. Without knowing the desperation of just another night in extraordinary pain, I wouldn’t celebrate the days when my body is just doing fine.

Thanks to the many nights awake with insomnia, I’m able to treasure our ability to regenerate during a good night’s sleep without feeling misunderstood and left alone by the medical system; I hadn’t learned to trust myself again like I do today.

Without going through this personal crisis, I wouldn’t have gained the deeper understanding and respect for my fellow human beings that I support in my work as a therapist. It might sound strange, but thanks to being ill, I feel stronger, more alive, and at peace with myself than ever. And this is something I am truly grateful for.

As humans, we often need a certain level of pain to move out of our usual patterns, and if the pain subsides too fast, we just go back to what we are used to, back to our so-called comfort zone.

So after having found a new promising way to stabilize myself by correcting my pelvic tilt, I’m just wondering if this might really be the end of three years reigned by pain.

Am I ready to live life without the crutch of pain and illness to remind me of my lessons? Will I be able to cherish the beauty of life like I do now? Will I be capable to hold my boundaries up without the pain reminding me of them on a daily base? Or is it all just wishful thinking to believe anything I do will have an effect on my condition? Just a human need to find a meaning in everything, including suffering?

I honestly don’t know the answer to those questions, but surely, I will stay curious and open to whatever will happen next, trusting myself and life to show me ways to keep going and loving life in all its shades, including the darkest ones.


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