I’ve maintained a journal for over three years.
Every day I sit down and write something. Usually about my day, a topic that’s interested me or thinking about how I’m feeling. The main topic tends to be about pain because I tend to write these words late in the day when my energy is low and my pain is high.
A theme that continuously appears in my journal is this: Will I be OK?
I’ve noticed that being in continuous pain and face to face with my bodily limitations on a day to day basis feels like a personal failure.
I wasn’t the one who caused this pain nor was I the person who asked for it. Yet, being in pain and lying in bed for hours or struggling through work feels like I’m doing something wrong and it feels like I am staring failure right in the face when I think about how I am in the present moment.
I’m exhausted even though I’ve barely left my room. I’m sad even though there are many reasons to be happy. I’m disappointed even though I’ve reached difficult goals in the past (like completing a Masters degree).
So, when I’m in pain, I feel as though I am also experiencing failure however irrational that might be. Perhaps you feel the same way.
Despite the belief that I’m “failing”, why do I still believe I’ll be OK? How do I know I’ll be OK?
What does it mean to be OK?
Maybe a strange question but it deserves some attention. Generally, it’s defined as something that is simply acceptable. Perhaps not good but not bad either.
We say it to our friends all the time:
“Don’t worry, you’ll be OK, alright?”
“We’ll be fine, we’ll make it through”
“You’ll survive this tough patch”
Should a life of pain be “simply acceptable”? Is it simply acceptable?
There isn’t much to like about chronic pain. However, that doesn’t mean that living a “simply acceptable” or even good life is impossible despite the challenges.
Experiences in life and relationships with others are thankfully a bit more complicated than the following argument:
- Life with chronic pain is bad
- I have chronic pain
- Therefore, I have a bad life.
There are many other people, experiences, relationships, gifts and so on to find richness in. To “be OK” is a reasonably personal definition because only you know what you find acceptable or which areas of your life are worse than others.
We can be OK in some places, worse in others. Upon reflection, we build an overall idea of whether we’re OK.
Engaging with difficult emotions is simply that. Difficult.
I don’t know
Let’s look at it differently.
Perhaps I don’t know at all. Perhaps any time I say to myself or to my friends “you’ll be OK” is simply a leap of faith.
Perhaps I won’t be OK.
When faced with uncertainty, could it be best to believe it because it’s the most helpful option? Admitting we don’t know if we’ll be OK doesn’t mean we should definitely believe we won’t be.
Instead we believe it anyway because it helps inspire action that will help us walk in the right direction.
It reminds us that engaging with difficult emotions is simply that. Difficult. It is unlikely to be life threatening and can help us in the long-term with a healthy approach to addressing emotions we usually avoid.
Reminding myself that I’ll be OK started off as a near meaningless chant that I simply really wanted to be true.
Only telling yourself that you’ll be OK isn’t how to begin to believe it. It comes from slowly working through emotions and trying to address them any time they come in.
Anger, frustration and sadness are akin to unwelcome visitors. It is best we welcome them in and let them leave on their own.
Otherwise they’ll pick the lock and let themselves in.
Will I be OK?
And we’re back to the main question and my answer is this: maybe I will be. Maybe I’ll be good or even brilliant!
But that starts with slowly and softly giving ourselves a way to address and accept our difficult emotions instead of running from them. This way, when they come up in the future, we have practiced and know how to handle them.
We can start with a few things:
Sometimes, everything just becomes overwhelming. And you know what? That’s fine. Having a physical place we can relax and simply experience our emotions is useful.
For me, it’s lying in bed or the yoga mat. For others, it can be a park they know they’ll have privacy.
Whatever it is, it’s a place for honesty. Over time, it may even become a place of strength. A place where you can say to yourself “I’m not running from this”.
The fear of the negative emotions approaching can be just as bad as the experience you’re hoping to avoid.
It can be difficult to notice but with some mindfulness training, it becomes easier. You may find that your body becomes tense or you crave junk food (not personal experience…).
But the fear won’t bite. We just sit and focus on something small. With time, the fear will subside and we will have the focus to engage with the tough emotions.
Like many skills, emotional acceptance is one to be developed through practice. We may not know we’ll be OK (whatever that means to us) but sometimes it’s helpful to believe that we will be.
Then, with time and practice we can answer the question of “Will I be OK?” meaningfully. Maybe we’ll accept that we do not know the answer.
Will I be OK? Perhaps.
Will you be OK? I definitely hope so.
Whatever it is, let us appreciate that we’re developing the skills to help ourselves along when times are difficult.
As always, thank you for reading!
My question for you is:
Do you have a sacred place to be vulnerable?
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