USPS, rage, and a little leaf

This morning I had to go to battle with the US Postal System and lost. I won’t bore you with details but to say that it cost us about $250 to have our mail forwarded for 4 months last year – and none of that was for postage. I was ready to explode when I hung up. I have a lot of self control but I got nasty with the supervisor I was speaking with – and apologized. I was so angry that I was afraid to open my mouth to answer her questions.

I don’t like being that angry – it uses up a lot of energy and it isn’t a feel-good emotion. Anger tells us we have been hurt and can motivate us to action. I was hurt but there is nothing more I can do so remaining angry only hurts my mind and body.

To dissipate this anger I decided to take a walk with my camera. I felt so foul I couldn’t even respond to the “good mornings” from other walkers. It wasn’t a good morning. My foul mood kept me from seeing anything of beauty to photograph. I found a few things but didn’t feel much joy as I clicked the shutter.

Then I saw it.

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A small golden leaf hanging from a tree on a gossamer-fine spider web. I could see in my mind what I wanted my image to look like but I soon discovered that photographing this simple leaf was very difficult.

It moved in the slightest breeze.

leaf 049Sometimes it swung so high I lost it against the tree background. It moved so quickly and was so small that the auto focus always hit on background so I couldn’t see the leaf in the viewfinder – I switched to manual focus. It worked better but this little piece of nature tended to moved out of the frame between focus and click. It also moved in and out of the light, and moved away from the best backgrounds.

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I became very focused. I had to focus all my energy away from my anger and into capturing a little yellow leaf floating in space. I took lots of photos and most were really easy to delete – permanently. These three make me happy, especially the middle one. They aren’t as focused as I would like but I learned a whole lot about myself as a photographer and how I use my camera. Next time the images will be even better.

Talking About Pain

During the first year I found that being sick brought up a lot of old, unresolved issues. It makes sense that having a chronic illness that decreases our functioning and increases our need for help from others would bring up issues around dependency, asking for help, and self-esteem. It can also bring up idiosyncratic personal issues, and a huge one for me was understanding, communicating and coping with pain. This was my favorite journal topic during that first year. I struggled to know how and when to communicate pain to others, especially those who were helping me most often – my husband and doctor.

I made the decision as a 4 year old that I wasn’t going to tell anyone about my pain, ever, and I would take care of myself. I had been badly hurt by a family member and I learned that if I told anyone about my physical pain they would create even more pain and I couldn’t handle any more. This was reinforced throughout my childhood by being told, “Stop your crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” As a child I couldn’t understand the logic of that statement and I still don’t.

As an adult, I remained true to this decision and even when I experienced very intense pain, I didn’t tell anyone until I would end up in the emergency room. I don’t think I developed a voice for pain or learned the social “rules” for pain. Psychotherapy taught me how to talk about my emotional pain but I still hadn’t learned how or when to communicate physical pain.

I had an excellent comprehension of emotional pain, but felt like physical pain was an incomprehensible language. I wrote in my journal:

If someone tells me they are hurting emotionally, I know exactly what they mean. When I think of physical pain, my own or others, I don’t seem to know what it means. When someone tells me they are hurting emotionally, I don’t need to know “how much” or “how intense” to feel drawn to them and want to help them. When I feel physical pain, I get caught up in needing to judge whether it is severe or mild and believe that no one could possibly be drawn to me and want to comfort me. In fact, I am still very hesitant to talk about my physical pain. And fibromyalgia pain makes it even more difficult because there is no open wound or broken bone. It doesn’t seem real, even though my experience is very real. The pricking in my legs and hands right now feels no different than if there were sharp little pins in my clothes. My body responds to the pain with nausea and high blood pressure. The pain wakes me up at night and causes me to jerk. 

It seems like pain is such an overwhelming part of my life but a part that isolates me from people instead of bringing connections. I don’t want my relational connections to be because of pain. I know how human connection can heal emotional pain, but I don’t know how human connection can heal my physical pain. I know that I am the one who makes my pain isolating. I am the one who lies and changes the subject when people sincerely ask me how I am feeling. I only take my pain seriously when it causes me to cry or creates symptoms that are real for me, like mental fog and breathlessness. (Personal Journal, 05/04)

When pain became a part of every day, when would I say to those who care about me that I am hurting? When my pain isn’t life-threatening, in fact isn’t even a symptom of a fixable problem, why would I say anything to anyone? My husband asks me how I feel and I don’t know what to say. If I say great, I feel like I’m not being true to myself and should be able to be as active as I was before I got sick – and as involved in his life as he was used to. On the other hand, it would be a real bore for him to hear every single day that I hurt. In the early years, even if I had said “better than normal” or “hurting more than normal” I don’t think he would have known what to do with it. What I felt I needed was for him to understand that I might not feel good enough to do something one day, but not assume that I would feel the same the next day and most importantly not to tell me when I shouldn’t do something.

My husband had gone through the Fibromyalgia Program with me at Mayo which helped him know when to take charge and help me do the things I needed to do, like stay active and exercise. He also suggested that I slow down when I needed to hear it. I think I was really hard to live with in that first year because I didn’t want to talk about pain and was very conflicted about needing and wanting help. I wanted to be competent and independent like before.

Comment from my husband:    It was really frustrating to see the person I love being so sick and not know how to help. It was difficult and painful for me, too.

Copyright © Patricia A. Bailey and I Miss Me, Too/ 2012-2013.

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