Frustrated By My Pain, I Changed My Life

Your emotions are a guide, and listening to them changes everything.

Frustrated By My Pain, I Changed My Life
Vintage Fairy Tale Illustration Of A Sad Girl At The Beach As The Waves Roll In. (Public Domain).

I’ve been in pain for most of my life.

But, I’ve learned to live with it, to live within it, and become a more fully-realized human being.

Anyone can do this. Anyone can learn these lessons to become a more whole person. Which means: to become more the person you imagine your best self to be.

Frustration. Chronic illness is endless cycles of frustration. Get sick, heal, improve, get sick again. Rinse, repeat. You end up feeling strung-out and washed-up, like a delicate coat that’s machine-washed and left to bleach in the Sun.

Years ago, my psoriasis would get so bad in the cold winter that my swollen legs would fissure like splitting ice, blood like water welling up to dry on clothing and on skin.

I still walked places. I still worked front-of-house for theater shows, attended school, went to work at my job.

Things got better. I improved. Took medications that helped. Struggled constantly, sure — but I could trace that improvement through the years.

Eight weeks ago, X-rays showed compression in my spine. Damage of the kind that athletes get, but I’m no track star — not even a pinball wizard. My days of teenage Aikido and saber-fencing could hardly be the cause.

Frustration. I felt such frustration, to have all that I had worked to achieve start to crumble. To have my internal state so disrupted by the loss of physical soundness. And I kept going, during this time, trying and trying to use the old patterns of thought, the old methods of acceptance and compassion. Methods that had saved me in the past, methods I spent years developing.

But, in the face of the crippling sciatic pain, I found all the skills built up over the years to be completely useless. The mental tools, the tricks of Stoicism and meditation, felt flat and filmy in the face of an onrushing disability that (it seemed) would certainly crush my dreams.

And then: a door.

You know the feeling of inspiration?

It’s a gentle breeze at the top of a hill on a sweating hot day. It’s the sound of birds, alive and well, chirping behind a hedge on a rainy morning.

It is a passage through an impossible state and into a new realm, beyond the ego.

In The Hero With the Thousand Faces, the mythologist-scholar Joseph Campbell writes that a key problem faced by the hero “is to open his soul beyond terror to such a degree that he will be ripe to understand how the sickening and insane tragedies of this vast and ruthless cosmos are completely validated in the majesty of Being” (Campbell, 2004, p. 135).

The doorway that opened my soul beyond was, itself, the frustration that I felt.

Emotions are signposts toward truth

Anger lets us know that something is wrong. Too much anger consumes us, but anger listened to can align us with the Cosmos.

Frustration is like that, too.

Frustration is the sign that what has been tried before is not working. Frustration is there to tell you that all your old tools and tricks, all your old patterns of behavior and thought, need to be reevaluated.

I felt incredible frustration because the methods of care, compassion, self-control, and acceptance that I had cultivated for previous periods of pain and instability… no longer worked. But I continued to try to use them anyway!

It was only by stepping back from what I knew to be true that I found the doorway leading into change. By accepting that my past experiences could not carry me through the present moment, I discovered the path that had been next to my feet all along.

Once I admitted to myself, “I might never get better,” I found my state improving.

Now, the old tools are being remade inside my heart and mind, entwined with new purpose and direction. And, every day, I feel stronger, I feel more self-sure. Because I listened to my frustration.

I am happier, and getting healthier, because I stopped trying to make things work the way I expected them to — the way that they always had. I surrendered to reality — stopped objecting to reality — and gave myself over to the actual state that I was in.

So, the next time you feel frustrated… listen to it. It’s to tell you something important. Let yourself pause, wait, patiently settle… and maybe you’ll find the path toward freedom that’s been right next to you all along.

Hi there! I’m Odin Halvorson, an independent scholar, film fanatic, fiction author, and tech enthusiast. If you like my work and want to support me, please consider subscribing to a paid tier for as little as $2.50 per month!

Campbell, J. (2004). The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Commemorative ed). Princeton University Press.

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