Purpose in Pain: Controlling the Uncontrollable

Photo by Logan Fisher on Unsplash

One of the most evolutionary parts of being human is our instinct to survive. Back in the day, it was based on physical safety. A tiger would be near, your senses would heighten, and you would be able to fight the tiger (not the best decision), or get the hell out of there, running faster than usual. Pure survival mode. Humans avoid pain as a way to survive. It keeps us safe. The concept makes sense, and I really have nothing to argue there.

But what about emotional pain? I mean, we still experience fight or flight when we’re waiting for news about our sick pet, when we are about to start a difficult conversation, or when we think our partner is being unfaithful. None of those scenarios are inherently dangerous or threaten our lives, but our autonomic nervous system didn’t get the memo, apparently.

I often joke about being great in an emergency because, chances are, I’ve already experienced the damn scenario in my head multiple times. I’ve emotionally “lived through” some of the most horrific situations…without them ever happening. It’s a skill, really…(eye roll).

My rational brain (which is somewhere really freakin deep in there) knows that fearing emotional pain will not actually make it any easier to deal with, should it happen. That fear is our brain’s way of trying to live through the experience to eliminate the feeling of the “unknown”. You see, as human beings, we don’t tolerate the unknown or ambiguity very well. We would probably feel much more at ease if we knew we could control all of our experiences. However, for most things in life…we don’t have control. If that makes you anxious, stay with me here…

I’ve lived over three decades anxious about the unknown. As a child, I feared the sudden death of my parents. Why? Because they were my safe space (still are). They provided certainty, and a controlled environment. When I was engaged to my (now) husband, I had horrific anxiety over him dying as well (yeah, I know…total buzzkill.). Self-disclosure: I had a total meltdown days before our wedding, because I figured that, statistically, I would experience his death before he experienced mine, and I couldn’t fathom that pain. When we talked about kids, guess what I feared? Yup! The death of a child. At first, I didn’t want to have kids, because the fear of losing a child was THAT strong for me. Spoiler alert: I have two kids, and so far so good.

Are the fears gone now? Hell no. They are still loud and clear.

So, what’s different now?

Purpose. I’ve made seeking purpose a regular part of my life. I’ve literally taken one of the most internally controllable variables, and turned it into something to help me feel more in control of the…well..uncontrollable.

This isn’t anything new, folks. It happens around us all the time. Many parents who lost children in the Sandy Hook tragedy have taken their pain and developed a purpose. Whether it was spearheading the building of a new playground in memoriam of the children lost, or kindness programs being rolled out in schools across the country – the underlying theme? PURPOSE.

I consistently work (definitive word being WORK) to find purpose in whatever pain I’m experiencing. When I was struggling with Motherhood, I created a Facebook group for Moms that was solely based on off-colored, sarcastic, inappropriate memes about being a Mom. I have close to 1,000 members in that group now, and have developed amazing friendships. I also offered an in-person Mom guilt workshop that I am now in the process of making available online. When I recently found myself sitting in immense anxiety during quarantine, I started doing live shows on Facebook about any and all topics having to do with mental health and sexuality. I’ve discovered that the most effective way for me to heal myself, is by helping to heal others.

I know this time is surreal. I know it can feel like it’s never ending. It’s also a great time to use your uncomfortable feelings and direct that energy towards a purpose. Remember, you can have a million different purposes throughout your life depending on where your pain is coming from. When we find purpose in our pain, we remove ourselves from the victim’s seat, and become the victor. Our pain doesn’t have to be some empty dark hole that we continue to fall into. By finding purpose, we can propel through the pain.

The moral of the story is this: Finding purpose in pain allows us to be in the driver’s seat of our healing process. We may not always know what lies ahead, but seek solace in the fact that our hands are always the ones on the wheel. <3

The Other Side of Anxiety: What ALSO is…

When the outside world seems so uncertain, anxiety rears its ugly head. For those who already have underlying struggles with anxiety, it seems almost unmanageable. I wish I could say you’re the only one. I wish I could say I don’t know how you feel. Both would be a lie.

Living my entire life with OCD (which is usually accompanied by anxiety), I’ve learned coping strategies when times like these hit. No, it’s not easy. No, it isn’t a one size fits all. However, there’s a common denominator amongst us anxiety warriors. We focus on the WHAT IF, and only ONE SIDE of the WHAT IS. But what about the “other side”? The what ALSO IS. Allow me to explain…

Given the current emotional chaos that COVID-19 has caused, let’s use it as my first example. This may trigger anxiety, but try to trust me with where I’m going with it. For many of us, we’re afraid that we might get the virus, and furthermore…die from it. We’re afraid for our loved ones getting sick as well. Understandable? Of course. Because of our anxiety, we are focusing on the WHAT IF, and ONE SIDE of the WHAT IS that exists – people are getting sick and, yes, some are dying.

You want to know what ALSO is?

I have an extended family member (that I am not living with) that tested positive for COVID-19. Guess what? She’s alive, and on her way to recovery – as are many others. As I write this article, there are a total of 103,321 cases in the US, and 1,668 deaths (CDC.gov). So, clearly there are many infected who are also surviving the virus. Anxiety doesn’t want to focus on that, because it doesn’t affirm our fears – and that’s how anxiety thrives. So, it’s critical to not leave out the “What ALSO is”.

Now, let’s talk cancer – another fear of many. Self disclosure – it’s one of my triggers. My anxiety focuses on death, chemo, side effects, financial stress of being out of work, etc. Is any of that valid? Yup! But you know what ALSO IS? The fact that I have several friends and family members who have cancer, and are functioning. I know people who have gone through chemo, and somehow managed to ALSO get through their days – some even stayed at work. Most of those who I know who have had cancer, survived it and are still cancer-free. Anxiety won’t focus on that, though. It’s not scary enough. I mean, how can our brains protect us from what COULD happen, if we are only focusing on what actually IS happening? (rhetorical and massively sarcastic).

How about body image? So many of us have a fear of being viewed as unattractive if we don’t have that Instagram body. We look at cellulite, loose skin, stretch marks, and a lack of abs as if we’re automatically off the market for being attractive. Are there people who are not attracted to those things? Sure! You know what ALSO IS? There’s a gazillion different body types, and miraculously most of us are found to be desirable by someone else – even if we never know about it. But again, anxiety isn’t interested in focusing on what brings us peace – only what creates an utter mind fuck. Am I right?

We get it, anxiety – bad things can happen. Thanks for the heads up (eye roll). It’s human nature to fear the worst. However, I’ve learned that most of the time it’s more of a protective measure, than a productive one. So, even when all of this blows over…and it will…try to remember that there will always be a “What ALSO is”, and it deserves just as much, if not more, attention than anything else.