What is pain? What does it do to us? What is its message? I have come to accept pain as a companion to my life. It has taught me to both live more consciously and be more present. Sometimes it makes me sad, too. Being in constant pain is not always easy.
Four years ago, I had a stupid accident in Barcelona with my bike that led to my ankle being fractured. It really was just a wet road and a simple slip. But when I looked up lying on the road, I instantly knew, something was really wrong. My left foot was turned to the left side in a very awkward way. Blessed may be those who do not feel pain in shock. I certainly am not one of them. The moment I had looked up incredible pain shot through my whole body, and I could not help but scream and cry. Luckily, some passersby called an ambulance immediately, and a very kind, Brazilian guy sat next to me. He held my hand till the doctors came. He told me to squeeze his hand as hard as possible, if I needed to. To this date, I do not know his name but I will forever be thankful for those moments he spent with me.
The accident changed my life forever
That night I only remember as a mixture of pain and delirium. The following day, the meds brought me to another hospital where I should get surgery. However, not right away. Instead, I spent the entire day somewhere in a random corridor of this white, unfamiliar place. Similar to the night before, this day is a cloudy memory of delirium. Looking back at it now, it was pure horror. But at the time, I fortunately did not really think about it. It just seemed natural. When the surgery was finally over, I woke up in intensive care where a nurse greeted me with a bed-pan. Not for a moment, he even considered helping me to the bathroom. I was just another patient. He probably did the 'right' thing, but I just felt so vulnerable and helpess. With a similar lack of empathy and sensitivity, my surgeon released me only about eight hours later.
There I was, standing on one leg somewhere in the hot streets of Barcelona, feeling dizzy and completely exhausted. With no crutches and no wheelchair, I had to balance it out to the pharmacy in order to get my prescription of painkillers. Oh man, I did not know then how much I would need them only a bit later.
Luckily, a friend’s parents took me in and watched me the following hours. To this day, I feel so sorry for how they had to see me that night. Literally, have you ever seen one of these war movies where people lie in military hospitals moaning and crying? This is how I was once this family had put me on their sofa. Every hour I would swallow painkillers, and fall asleep just to wake up moaning and screaming again. Looking back now, I think those were some of my life`s worst hours.
There was no escape from this pain and although it got less the upcoming weeks, it should become a constant companion to my life. Many nights thereafter, I woke up and just stayed with the pain. I started breathing into and listening to it. I also learned not to judge it. In fact, I actually watched my body and was in awe by its healing powers. I became so aware and present of what was going on with me, and a deep feeling of gratefulness for the strength of my body arose.
Pain has taught me to be present
Both, this presence as well as the admiration for my body grew notably. I mean, you break your bones – in my case, the tibia, fibula, and Volkmann’s triangle – and then your body just heals. It lets your bones grow back together and meanwhile tells you exactly what it needs, that is, a lot of rest, sleep, and food. This might sound pretty straightforward at first. But before the accident, I had not listened to my body too much. Since I had only just started a new job, I was more focused on my future and the next steps in my career. Without wanting to sound judgmental about my aspirations, I am glad that pain taught me to be more aware of my physical needs. Additionally, it had me notice one more thing: That it is not necessarily bad to be dependent on others.
Initially, after the accident I felt really helpless. Suddenly having a shower, buying groceries, or cleaning my apartment were really big obstacles. It was hard to ask for help, but there was no way around. However, I soon noticed that it is actually nice having someone take care. I sure had to make many compromises with regards to my independence, but I also got to appreciate how much my family, friends, and partner cared. Without asking questions, they prepared my food, helped me clean, or just drove me around in a wheelchair.
Pain – a companion till today
So again, I am grateful for pain's lessons: Firstly, it showed me that we have to embrace whatever challenge life brings along. While embracing it, we might even realize how much our friends and family care about us, how much they love us. Secondly, it has taught me presence. The respect and awe I felt for my healing body has transformed into a loving and kind relationship to it. Back then I stepped away from judging pain. Thus, it simply became a part of me that was at times better, at times worse. Overall, it brought me closer to my beloved ones and taught me to be proud of my body, too.
Until his day, I cannot fully bend my ankle. In medical terms, I am twenty percent handicapped. My meditative running hours have passed along with the long squash battles after work. Instead, I have started to do yoga. I even did a yoga teacher training – maybe unconsciously also to show myself, that one path might end while another one opens. Through yoga I also got to meet a lot of people who share the constant companion of pain. They made me aware that many of us carry some pain around, either physical or mental.
Embrace your vulnerability.
In my case, pain got me to accept my own vulnerability in a loving kind of way. On the one hand, I got much better in both taking breaks and listening to my body. I know that there is still a long way to go before I am completely in touch with all the physical messages.
On the other hand, my way of meeting challenges has changed a lot. Instead of feeling that I have to face them all entirely by myself, I kind of calm down trusting that there will always be wonderful people to catch me, if necessary.
Writing this article has not been easy for me. But I really hope that by sharing some of my experiences, I could invite you to embrace your vulnerability a little more. It is okay to feel pain, we all do. But just trust that is has something to tell you, and meet it with kindness.
More on my Experience to Become a Yoga Teacher