Did you ever hear words from a song you had enjoyed listening to many times before, but suddenly a new meaning or perspective on a specific line catches your attention for the first time? I was recently listening to a friend sing Anthem, by Leonard Cohen and was taken aback by the words, “There is a crack in everything - That is how the light gets through.” I sat there feeling overwhelmed by what was being sung, along with being shocked that I realized I had, in the past, enjoyed the tune rather than opening myself up to the message the words were attempting to convey. But that line really caught my attention this time and I am grateful that I finally really heard it, for I felt it spoke to me on a personal level.
Living with the daily struggle brought on by chronic medical issues that include pain and long recovery periods following many surgeries which, at times, creates a great deal of social isolation, I was taken by the thought that the light gets through cracks which are all around us. So often, you feel you are isolated and alone in a sealed box as a victim of your condition, with no light or hope penetrating your prison like surroundings. However, after serious contemplation, this makes me think that I have had that wrong. When I think about it, I see cracks of light in closets, through walls, through branches of trees and leaves and most places I can mention. The symbolism for me is that light, representing hope, life, and survival are really around us when we feel it isn’t. We have to open our eyes and allow what is really there to penetrate our lives and allow us to believe we are really here and part of life, no matter how difficult our path of life has become.
As I think about these words, I also dwell on whether I am going to become a victim of my circumstances or one who is defined as a survivor, attempting to overcome obstacles in my path. We all have different struggles in life and thus we must make a conscious decision as to how we want to handle our unique circumstances and how we want to be remembered. When things go terribly wrong and not planned, there is a period of shock, disbelief and in time much mourning for what is never going to be again. And then……. we get to choose - victim or survivor.
As you, too, have to decide how to take life on as this new you, perhaps living with pain, heartbreak and loneliness, you have to try to determine what is best for you. So many afflicted with chronic problems often find themselves mired down with anger. This, the emotional component, inherent in dealing with chronic, often lifelong medical conditions, may prove to be the most difficult obstacle to overcome. In attempting to adjust to living with a chronic medical condition, anger is certainly justified but it is critical not to allow these emotions to define you and control your life. I attempt to focus my mind on how I am perceived by my children and the manner in which they are observing how I address the many obstacles I must now confront, just as I observed and then utilized the courageous manner in which Dad took on this last year’s suffering with numerous forms of cancer. Due to his determination to engage positively in life with pain and losses, yet with a smile around others and always displaying compassion towards all of those around him. I felt that this was the way I hoped to try to take on my trials. My Mom chose the opposite path. She chose to feel being the victim, expecting us to make things better, feeling bitter and not acting like a happy person. Observing them both, it became a no brainer as to who I would attempt to embrace as my role model. But choosing being the role of survivor with serious chronic medical issues, is a journey which is sure to bring on incredible stress. However, the results of my life choosing to find happiness despite what I face with two incurable conditions has been worth the daily efforts. Despite all the losses through the years, two incurable diagnosis, and now twenty-four surgeries, I do view life in a positive light. I allow those cracks of light to shine through as much as I can. There are days I want to be done with pain and hardship, but somehow attempting to embrace the good in my life allows me to often transcend the frequent days which would otherwise prove emotionally overwhelming.
I hope that you, too, will try to take your challenges and turn from just feeling the victim to considering being the survivor and feeling the good that is still around you. I find comfort in reminding myself that this is the one life I get to live. I want to feel that there is a reason I am still here and hope that there will be some positive impact towards improving the life experience of others facing similar circumstances. I know there will be days you wonder how this could be possible, but it is worth digging deep to find meaning and hope to be that survivor.
May life be kind to you,
Ellen Lenox Smith
Author of: It Hurts Like Hell!: I Live With Pain- And Have a Good Life, Anyway, and My Life as a Service Dog!
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report.
Ellen Lenox Smith and her husband Stuart live in Rhode Island. They are co-directors for medical cannabis advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation, along with Ellen on the board and they both also serve as board members for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition. For more information about medical cannabis visit their website. https://ellenandstuartsmith.squarespace.com/