Seeing the Positive in Pain
Exactly around this time ten years ago, my life changed forever. It was both the beginning of something as well as its end thereof. I woke up with excruciating pain in my pelvic region as well as nausea that landed me in the ER and a few hours later, the OR for invasive surgery (laparotomy) to remove the tumors that had torsioned themselves on my right and left ovaries. My life had been “idyllic” before then. Except for some childhood interruptions, I was fairly healthy and was on track to make something of my life. But this surgery changed everything. And I would not have known how much until years after.
From that moment since the surgery, pain became a constant fixture in my life. As I am averse to taking medications (thank God my job doesn’t rely on convincing people to take their meds, haha), I have had to live with the pain and manage it conservatively. While the surgery saved my ovaries and reduced that excruciating pain, its invasive nature came with complications such as pelvic adhesions, scar tissues, and recurring fluid in my pelvic cavity that I have had to keep undergoing additional surgeries to correct (six in total between 2012 and 2016). Then came the diagnosis of Stage 4 endometriosis to top it all off — a disease that mimics an autoimmune condition that greatly impacts your quality of life as a woman in your childbearing years.
Endometriosis and recurring ovarian cysts have not only made it difficult for me to conceive naturally but have also caused multiple pregnancy losses that have now led my codified team of healthcare providers at a loss of what to do with me. Treating the endometriosis will mean shutting down the activity of my lady parts to produce the right environment for conception. And attempts to fortify my fertility plans make my endometriosis go rogue which makes me unbearable to have around. I think you get the picture already.
At the beginning of all this madness, I always asked God “why.” Why did it have to be this way and why did it have to be me? But later on, especially when I gained more clarity plus I got tired of asking why, I reframed my area of questioning to “how.” How can I find purpose in my pain and use it to help others like me? Not to sound too cheesy and all-enlightened but this change in attitude has probably been one of the things that have saved my life to date. Especially on days when my thoughts don’t reflect who I really truly am and I feel like the most unlucky person in the world. By sharing my story (see here, here, here, here, and here), which took a lot of courage, I have been able rid myself of a significant amount of shame I internalized regarding my fecundity. I have also found others like me who have responded positively to my clarion call, who let me know that I am not alone. In sharing my story, I also found some purpose and set myself free. Plus my outlook on life has since considerably changed. Given my rugged personality, pain has been useful in helping me slow down, focus on the essentials, and be mindful of the good times. That’s one part.
I have always been drawn to C.S. Lewis and his matter-of-fact depiction of our human struggles, especially pain. He encountered a litany of painful experiences from losing his mother at a tender age, suffering from respiratory illness as a teenager, and losing his beloved wife, Joy Davidman, to cancer. C.S. Lewis books, especially A Grief Observed and The Problem of Pain helped me considerably cope with the pregnancy losses and chronic pain, respectively. In his book, The Problem of Pain, he shared the following words that are forever etched in my mind:
Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
And I also think certain painful experiences can certainly have a much greater and positive impact on us than we give them credit for. Take, for example, my coworker who broke her leg and had to endure the concomitant pain from that as well as adjusting to crutches. During her scans and whatnots, the doctors found a cancerous growth in her thyroid that could have become virulent if they had not caught it in time. So she had to undergo surgery quickly to remove that. If her leg didn’t get broken, I probably will be sharing a different story. And it makes you really put pain in a different context if you think deeply about her experience.
As this decade comes to an end and the new year rolls in, we might be tempted to make certain kinds of wishes, like: “I want only good things to happen to me in the new year.” But think about it, if we had sunny weather all the time, everywhere will be a dry patch of desert — totally uninhabitable! The downpour of rain and snow pelting on us provide nourishment to the soil and our own hearts too. Without these, we won’t have seasons of growth, rest, renewed strength, and fruit-bearing. So when next you are tempted to make such a wish, might I suggest a slight modification? Like to say instead: “In this new year, I want some good things to happen to me as well.” Because there’s a lot to be learned in the bad times as well as the good times.
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