The Gift of Pain, part 2

That night, despite the relief from the osteopath, I don’t sleep. I know that I have to be on form to look after our son and be there for my husband the next day. I have to try a different tack. I think back to how I used to deal with the pain before the responsibility of jobs and parenthood. I’d relax with friends, sometimes with a drink, sometimes a smoke, but really it was the deep sense of friendship that helped me relax and allowed me to sleep. How to conjure up that sense on my own. I head downstairs and open up my laptop and put on some music. I choose carefully, uplifting tunes with lyrics that appeal to a sense of grace, a growth of love. Neil Diamond’s “Pretty Amazing Grace”, Jeff Buckley’s “Hallejuah”. I begin to compile a playlist. I sing along, letting my body sway to the music. As dawn breaks I sneak back to bed and drift off for an hour or so before my son awakes.



I may be severely lacking in sleep but I feel so grateful, so elated, so free. That sense of love and grace from the tunes has pervaded my body. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t slept, that my head still aches, for a while the pain and fatigue have been  transcended, without drugs or drink, but rather with a feeling of compassion for myself, of love, of grace and joy. Oh boy do I need more of that feeling.

My husband calls. He wonders if it’s appropriate for Theo to visit. He’s been put in a ward with elderly people. Some of the sounds and sights are quite distressing. The man beside him had passed away in the night. His daughter had popped out and was distraught to have missed his passing. My husband had hugged and comforted her, telling her his passing had been peaceful. It’s beautiful. To be able to bring such comfort to a stranger at such a poignant time. Both Tim and I feel deeply humbled by the experience. Another man is very distressed and crying over his relationship with his estranged daughter. She lives overseas and they haven’t spoken in years. A kindly nurse is encouraging him to write to her.

Theo and I take a taxi to hospital and gingerly make our way up to the ward. Tim’s bed is at the far end by the window. Some patients are sitting up, others sleeping. One man is grunting and groaning in pain. My husband, in his 40s, must be the youngest by at least three decades. The man opposite him is being spoon-fed by his wife. Theo sees his Dad and runs over to greet him. He looks grey and exhausted but happy to see us. We hug and he talks us through the extreme pain of the spinal tap, the other various tests he’s had and the ones to come. I take out the plump farm fresh strawberries we brought and pass them round to the others in the ward. My husband’s new neighbour is a retired greengrocer with a glint of cheekiness in his eye. He remarks on how our visit has lit Tim up. As the sun streams through the window, I see how our five year old boy, so full of innocence and joy can spread love and warmth to all those around. I share a few words with the lady spoon-feeding her husband. I see the love and hope in her eyes as she gently attempts to coax the food into his mouth. Again I feel humbled by the sight. I’m so glad we came into the ward. We pop out to the canteen for a cup of tea, Tim leaning on my arm for support. Before long I see the greyness come back into Tim’s face and I help him back into his bed. He’s ready for us to leave.

As the days unfold Tim strikes up a relationship with the others on the ward. He’s the baby of course, and is teased for this. But I know his lightness, his easy manner is an asset to that small group of souls, so many at the end stage of their lives. The doctors haven’t found anything but he’s still unable to stand without swaying and he has a huge headache, partly a side effect of the spinal tap. He has a complicated medical history and is on the case load of both a cardiologist consultant and neurological consultant. We feel pleased that many possible causes are being investigated. By the sixth day he asks if he can continue these investigations as an outpatient, and he’s allowed home. Tears well in the eyes of the lady opposite as we say goodbye. Her husband still isn’t eating. She knows he’s near the end. Tim enfolds her in one of his big hugs, and I watch her melt a little. The greengrocer keeps up his cheery banter as we share out the remaining fresh fruit from beside Tim’s bed with those we leave behind. Tim leans on my arm as I help him out, Theo holding my other hand.

The next day Tim is exhausted and rests on the sofa. He finds it excruciatingly painful to lift his head. We’re due to go on holiday the following day, our first two week holiday together in nearly four years. There’s no way he’ll manage the plane journey to Spain. I change our flights for a few days later, contact the B&B in Spain we’d planned to stay at and explain the situation. Though we had both been so looking forward to the respite of a longer than usual break, it doesn’t matter that we miss the first few days. Those days of reflection as Tim lies on the sofa after his hospital visit are restorative for us both and richer than any holiday.

And my pain? Oh I still have it. The intensity has eased a little but I still feel fragile and achy and am not sleeping well. But something has changed. I reflect that my usual tactic of distracting myself from my pain by becoming busy does not help to loosen the grip the pain has over me. Rather it’s a sense of relaxing into the vibes of grace and love that really brings relief. It’s a similar deeply humbling nature of grace and love that we both felt through our hospital experience. Similar too is the vibe I’m blessed with during my morning spiritual exercises, when I truly connect. A vibe that softens me inside and links me to the only true provider of balm. My heart fills with gratitude as I turn in and give thanks to that teacher inside of me. I see with more clarity than ever that to truly live within that vibe of love and grace is really my only desire. And I know that to do that, every physical and emotional pain and woe that I carry, every urge and need of my ego will have to be released.

Three days later we cross the departures lounge in Stansted Airport. One of my arms supports Tim who’s struggling to walk. He wears a huge sombrero to protect him from the dizzying effect of the airport lights and steadies himself on the wall on the other side. My other arm pulls our hand luggage, with our son gleefully riding his Gruffalo Trunki. It’s slow progress, and Tim is exhausted as he collapses into a seat for some breakfast before the flight.

To an observer it may not seem like the ideal start to a summer holiday. The travails of the past ten days have brought us both to our knees. We are leached of energy on all fronts, our physical bodies still ailing from our separate challenges. Our plans of travel and adventure in Spain have been scuppered. Yet I know that for me, for us, this moment, and all that has led up to it, is just perfect. Through the veils of my own pain and the humbling nature of seeing the pain of others, I’ve been gifted with a deeper connection to love and grace.  Gifted with a greater urge to go inwards and link to that teacher inside of me, that strong vibration of love which has carried me through. Gifted with the knowledge that this deep connection is all that I need.

In place of the active holiday we’d envisaged, we now share a deep need to be still, to deeply relax whilst embracing Theo’s natural sense of play…….and to recharge. A softer, more gentle vibe of tenderness and compassion envelops the three of us. We share a smile, and I feel blessed.

P.S. If you enjoyed reading this post, I’d so love it if you left a comment to share what resonated with you (or didn’t) and/ or any experience of your own inspired by this essay. Thank you!

The Gift of Pain

My head aches. The all-too-familiar sensation of heaviness and compression pervades down the left side of my skull. The usual pain throbs from the top left of my neck making my occiput tender to touch. Tension knots my shoulders. My spine feels rigid, my sacrum bruised, a dull sensation penetrates down my left leg. I’ve had a relaxing evening, a hot steaming bath, rubbed in some anti-inflammatory lotion to my aching muscles and taken some ibuprofen. This is my third night of enduring pain and I know that until I get myself to an osteopath, and allow myself to rest, sleep will be hard to come by.

It’s the beginning of the summer holidays for my five-year-old son, Theo. We’ve driven north out of London to the haven of my cousin’s farm. For me and my animal-loving son it’s a place of dreams. A menagerie of rare-breed farm animals set amongst fields of burgeoning fruit trees and bushes, and of vegetables ripe for the picking.



My warm-hearted cousin and her generous husband fill our bellies with delicious home cooking from fresh farm produce and seamlessly enjoin us in the best of the farm chores. We feed the piglets, collect eggs from the hens, pet the horses, play with the dogs. We fill punnets of rich juicy fruit from the laden cherry trees, blissfully savouring the taste as we go. We happily unburden the strawberry bed of plump ripe berries and untangle aprons over tea in the farm cafe.   We coo over their ten-month-old son, smiling at his chubby cheeks and his huge endearing eyes. It’s a happy day of catching up and enjoying being, and I’m pleased that I’ve distracted myself from the pain.  I enjoy a glass of wine for dinner. I feel it go to my head, as my voice becomes louder than usual, my conversation too free.

This is my third night of sleeplessness, and with each ensuing night the physical pain becomes harder to bear, my emotions more fragile, my composure more on edge. Let’s face it, I’m wired. Thoughts race through my mind as I frantically try to think myself out of this unbecoming situation. After over two decades of grappling with this pain, it angers me that I’m unable to manage it more gracefully, that I don’t know myself better than to allow myself to get into this situation again. This anger fuels the thoughts that race around my head, the blocked energy that stifles my body. I pull out my phone and listen to an inspiring talk, hoping the loving teachings of my spiritual teacher will ease my pain. They don’t.

By morning I’m so brain dead I feel like a zombie. Today I have to drive home to London. It’s only around a two-hour drive but it feels reckless on so little sleep. My son awakes early full of joy. I’m glad of the distraction but have little energy for play. I guiltily set him up on the iPad so I can treat myself to another soak in the bath. We come down for breakfast and I attempt to make tea for everyone…but I’m so tired and on edge that I can’t remember all the different tea requests. There’s only four of us! My head hurts with the huge effort it takes to think and do anything. Theo is lovingly swept out to join in with the morning chores whilst I go up to pack and make an effort to cry. I’m not good at crying. It’s not one of those things that comes easily to me. But I sense a need to release some of this emotion and try to encourage the tears to roll down my cheeks. My cousin pops in and we share a hug.

I potter over to the farm shop to stock up on food for the coming week. Farm shops are one of my favourite places to browse, and this is a great one. I choose some lovingly home-cooked meals, meat from their hand-reared animals and fresh home grown veggies. I pick out some treats for us and presents for others. I add these to some of the fruit we had picked the day before. It’s more than I would usually buy but I’m too tired to choose and I love to support this family business.

My cousin’s husband is at the counter and asks how I am. How to explain that nothing is really the matter though everything seems to be bothering me. I’m so fed up with not being able to manage my long-term chronic pain. Will I ever learn how to cope with it better? I feel disheartened by having a husband who works all hours at building his company, leaving little time for play. I feel lost after giving up my job to raise our son. Gone is the daily gratification of being good at a job that supports those with mental health problems, the comradery of being part of a passionate and talented team and of course the monthly pay cheque that goes with it. I feel misplaced and outmanoeuvred by moving to a different area of London, reluctantly swapping a much loved traipsing ground with a supportive community for somewhere that feels alien, yet where we can afford a terraced house and garden near a good school for our son. I feel worn down by managing extensive renovations whilst living in a building site and nurturing a toddler, with little support at hand and no one I know well close by. I’ve somehow lost me in the process. Tears well in my eyes as I fail to articulate what feels true. My words tumble out in a haze of fatigue and pent-up emotion.

As I start the car to leave, my phone rings. It’s my husband, Tim. He lovingly asks how I am and I don’t need to say much for him to know my state. We’ve been here so many times before. He encourages me to book into my osteopath as soon as I can. Then he tells me he’s had another dizzy spell. He collapsed on the pavement in central London and his colleague helped him into a taxi home. I know it must be bad. He’s due to present at an important meeting up north today and little would tear him away from that. Over the last few months his dizzy spells have been becoming more prominent, rising from occasional spells which he’s always had to episodes that happen multiple times a day. I encourage him to go to the doctor but there’s no way he can manage the ten minute walk to the surgery.  He decides to call a cab to take him there.

This emergency is exactly what I need to pull myself together for the drive home. Tim is laid out on the sofa as we arrive. The doctor wanted him to go straight to hospital but he can’t face the bright lights and bustle of a busy Accident and Emergency department. He’ll wait until tomorrow. Typically he’d prefer to be at home to make sure I am okay. I make him tea, unpack our bags and look after our son, stepping into a new zone of energy I didn’t know I had. Despite the delicious food I’ve bought, Tim doesn’t feel like eating much. He looks grey, his slim frame shivering despite the summer warmth.  When I come down from putting Theo to bed I catch him struggling to heat up some soup. He can’t stand without holding onto something. I sit him down and gently help him to his dinner.

After another night of little sleep, I go to the osteopath and feel an instant release as my joints are manipulated back into place. But I’m still fragile. I know it’ll take a while for the headache to release and to regain my energy after the gruelling few nights. Tim is laid out on our bed. He can’t stand without feeling dizzy. Our son regales us both with his effortless sense of play.   It’s early afternoon by the time Tim takes a taxi to hospital. I’d like to drive him but we both know it would aggravate my neck, and one of us needs to be on form to look after Theo. We know it will be a wait but expect him back before nightfall.

In the early hours of the evening, he calls me. The doctors want to keep him in hospital overnight. They’re concerned that he has a large insect bite on his leg from a recent weekend trip to the New Forest and think he may have Lyme disease. They need to do a spinal tap, also known as a lumbar puncture, a diagnostic procedure which takes fluid from the spine in the lower back through a hollow needle, as well as various other tests to assess what is going on. I’m just in the process of putting our son to bed, and we decide it will be less disruptive for Theo if I stay at home. He calls his sister who’s able to come in to hospital, bring him a change of clothes and be there for him. We’re both surprised at the turn of events, but also pleased that after a life time of dizzy spells, they are finally being taken seriously. Perhaps we’ll have a reason for them soon.

To be continued…..

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