Life Is Pain

"Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something." -The Princess Bride

I had a rough weekend.

It started with a terrible dream, followed by an extended bout of insomnia that left me in a fog of anxiety and discomfort. We were scheduled to have a family dinner Sunday night, but my mounting insecurity led me to send J and the kids without me.

While avoiding a social event seemed the most gentle choice for myself, I wondered why it was {and is} that so often I become obsessively ashamed of my body when I'm depressed. What had started out as feeling just a little off-kilter and sad had quickly transformed into a full-fledged case of self-loathing.

I couldn't possibly be in the presence of normal, attractive people and pretend to be one of them, I thought. They would see right through me. Being caught trying to walk among them would be torture of the highest order. An unredeemable embarrassment.

I knew, at least on some level, that these thoughts were ridiculous; self-defeating and entirely unhelpful. But where do they come from? They're like a well-worn path that my brain unconsciously treads with the slightest provocation. The ease with which I walk it must mean I've thought this way for a long, long time. I reason that even the most hurtful coping mechanisms were-- once upon a time-- just that. Coping mechanisms.

My theory is this: a long time ago, I was a teenager with very little control of my life, and a very high level of fear surrounding that. It felt powerful and affirming to set goals {run 4 miles} and achieve them. It was meditative and calming to know that whatever else happened, I could succeed in controlling my body.

It was healthy until it wasn't.

Because somewhere along the line, it stopped being simply a means of dealing with pain and fear, and became a hoped-for cure to pain and fear.

Instead of thinking,  I'll feel happier after I go running I'd think, I wouldn't be so sad if I looked like a real runner.

Instead of feeling a sense of accomplishment as I achieved goals, I began seeing my unmet, unrealistic goals {to look like a model} as the source of all that was wrong with my life. I wanted to feel complete-- inoculated from all dissatisfaction and uncertainty. I wanted to be a finished product.

I still do this. Unknowingly, yes, but still-- whenever uncomfortable feelings start to overwhelm me, I tread that well-worn path of thought. If I could fit those old size 0 jeans, this wouldn't hurt me so much. Aside from being patently untrue, thoughts like these inevitably lead to shame and despise, not motivation. I sink into a pit of despair.

What snaps me out of it is often a variation on a theme. {It seems I must learn the same lesson, over and over again.} I remember that when the Buddha was asked to reveal the meaning of life, he replied, "Life is pain." A rather macabre statement, but one that I find oddly comforting. I looked it up; In fact, the inescapability of pain is the first of the Four Noble Truths.

Remembering that life is pain frees me from reading too much into painful experiences. Pain does NOT mean that I'm unworthy of happiness until I'm thinner or richer or admired or what-have-you. Pain does not mean God is punishing me, or testing me, or playing cruel games with me. Pain does not mean that I'm just pessimistic and could be blindingly happy if I would look on the bright side. Pain is just life, and remembering that saves me from wasting my time hopelessly trying to avoid it.

I had a therapist once who said that the degree to which we open ourselves to pain is the degree to which we open ourselves to joy. That we cannot experience one without the other, and that when we live in fear or pursuit of only one, we live a half life.

I think of all the good people in this world who have suffered and yet done heroic, good things with their lives. I think of how none of us ever has true control over anything. I think of how little it matters in the end what dress size I wear. I think of all the small yet sacred things I can do with my time if only I wouldn't allow fear of pain to derail me.

I'm trying to condense all these thoughts into a concise mantra I can feed myself as I tread a new path of thought in my brain: "I am not my body. Life is pain. Embrace it. Look for God in it."

Baby steps, people.



Crystal Hansen said...

Hey wanna get together and have an oscar party? remember when we asked just that and actually did it! wish it could be so again. I am sorry you had such a lousy weekend. Big intrusive hug.

Maureen Taylor said...

Seriously I don't know you make your thoughts so clear with written words! I will always deeply admire that about you!
I really appreciate your take on this life is pain concept. I fully believe the "more pain, more pleasure" concept also. Lately I have been resistent and afraid of feeling and have found myself an unloving, callused, bitter mess. I'm working on embracing and surrendering to life's experiences. No solutions or ah ha moments yet. It's all easier said than done. If you are ever feeling down on yourself, email me, I could think of a hundred or so nice compliments for you! I know those are only temporary bandaids though, but still;)

JeanetteH said...

I have always seen you as beautiful, inside and out, since the day I met you. :)

Apis Melliflora said...

Really like what your therapist said.

Natalie said...

'Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.' (Romans 8:1-2)

If there is no condemnation in Christ, there is no judgment in suffering.


hessfam said...

I think you are amazing. I always find inspiration from your posts. I hope you will be gentle with yourself friend, because you are wonderful!! Plus who wants to be a size 0 skeleton anyway--not me...I have always longed to be a curvy women :)

Joy said...

Hi there-
Just checking in to see how you are. Life is Pain has been the blog post I see every time I check your blog, and that is often! I hope you have had a positive spell or even a period of great growth with challenges...I look forward to hearing about your life lately if you are ready to share.

Anna said...

Thank you. I just read 2 years of your life journey and am feeling humbled and thoughtful and inspired. My husband suffers from depression. You express yourself with such honest emotion I feel I have a glimpse into the pain.

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