Living with Pain: Learning to Mourn

Living with Pain: Learning to Mourn

In my last column, “The Demon of Depression”, I wrote about suicidal thoughts and the need for those of us in chronic pain to mourn our losses.

What follows comes mostly from my own thinking and experience with pain, which continues to plague me, just as it plagues many of you.

bigstock-Depressed-Man-Sitting-On-Top-O-48751034I admit to a fair amount of trepidation about exposing myself like this, but what I’m about to write I’ve written as a chapter in my forthcoming memoir. The chapter can be read on my blog, under the heading “The Ninth Circle”.

In the mid-nineties I had to abandon my practice of psychotherapy and my adjunct professorship in Chicago.

Our small family, including my wife and son, moved to New York so my wife, Judie, could take a lucrative vice presidency with a leading company in her industry in Manhattan.

This move was necessary as it became increasingly clear that I would not much longer be able to work and to produce an income to help support us. We decided that we’d have to follow my wife’s career if we were going to have any income..

Shortly after our move to New York, it became crushingly clear that I would no longer be able to practice psychotherapy or teach. The pain from my diseases galloped free and made my continued working laughable.

When we left Chicago for New York, we left behind Judie’s large family, my practice, my wonderful students, the clients I had worked with for so long, and all of our friends who helped sustain us in the face of the continued losses from my illness.

Leaving was traumatic.

Worse, six months before we departed, my older brother — with whom I was very close — died suddenly, leaving behind his wife and two young boys.

His death was devastating.

All of these changes and the continuing impact of the horrible pain of my illnesses set me squarely on the edge of disaster.

As we settled into southern Westchester County near the Bronx, we were able to find a townhome and get our 4-year old son into preschool. Judie began a grueling job that had her traveling much of the time, and when she was with us, she rarely got home before 8 pm.

I struggled with all the chores of a single parent, while trying to fend off the gathering impact of the pain that throttled me at every opportunity. Even though I was making friends and getting us involved socially in our small village on the Hudson, I was sinking further into the miasma of pain and disability.

Worse was the continuing and deepening debt we were incurring because of the loss of my income and the multiplying medical bills insurance didn’t cover.

In the middle of all this I was still deeply mourning the loss of my brother.

During this two year period, I was slowly coming to the realization that I was disabled and not returning to work any time soon.

Looking back on this disaster, I was suffering one major loss upon the next as the shroud of depression settled over me like a bayou fog. All I could think of at the time was how to stop the pain that had invaded my body like the Nazi blitzkrieg invading Poland.

During months of insomnia I would sit at my desk in the midnight dark and plot ways to kill myself to relieve the pain in all my joints.

I was desperate. All I wanted was the relief of the sweet nothingness of death. But how could I do it in such a way that suggested an accident and not suicide? Nightly I would, in the lonesome hours, plot the different scenarios that would all inevitably be found wanting.

Pain stalked me day and night, minute by agonizing minute. I could only think of release, of death, day after day, night after night, month in, month out.

Slowly, very slowly, I began to think differently about my life and pain.

What if, like the client I described in my last column, my contemplation of my death was simply the contemplation of all the deaths that had already happened to me?

I began to realize that it wasn’t just the physical pain, but also the emotional pain of all the deaths that were driving me deep into the dungeon of depression. I knew that like my client, I needed to mourn all the losses that accumulated around me like so many drifts during a nor’easter.

I began to write poetry and joined a writers group in the west Village that I met with weekly for 5 years. I quickly learned the craft of poetry and the skills of publishing my work. I would sit day after day, night after night in my small office in our house outside the city crafting one poem after the next, sometimes spending hours sitting and lying down looking for the perfect word.

suicideprevention1I found that concentration like that lifted me from despair as I uncovered a new purpose: the perfect word, the perfect rhyme, the perfect image. The search for perfection lifted me from the imperfection of loss.

Not only was I concentrating and creating, I had also reached out to a group of people who supported my dark poems, my dark work. They supported me excavating the depths of my despair and my losses in symbolic, creative ways that allowed me to not only pay homage to the losses in my life, but also provided a way to sink into myself that wasn’t bleak and prohibitive.

Even with the continuing losses from my diseases, I found a way to creatively mourn and to enlist the loving involvement of other artists on my road to memorializing my losses and pain, while reconnecting with the world of others through written word.

Reaching deep within myself and wide into the world of others helped me learn my process of mourning the constant losses attendant to chronic pain.

I learned. And I hope this may help you find your own ways to mourn the inevitable.

If you or a loved one are in emotional distress, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has counselors available 24 hours day, seven days a week, at 800-273-TALK (8255). You are not alone. Help and hope are available.

Mark Maginn

Mark Maginn

Mark Maginn lives in Chicago where he is a poet, writer and social justice activist. Mark suffers from chronic pain and was a longtime volunteer with the American Pain Foundation. His blog “Left Eye Blind” can be found here

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The information in this column is not intended to be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Only your doctor can do that!  It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s personal experiences and opinions alone. It does not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report or Microcast Media.

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This is so touching, honest and brave. Sometimes one does have to go to the brink before there is sufficient reason to step back from it. Glad we still have you.