Real-life, gritty spirituality- Living with pain and illness.

Ok, so this post starts off as a ‘normal’ post about my progress, but quickly moves on to the psychological and spiritual aspects that I haven’t really covered before. I’m going to get a bit hardcore here and hold nothing back, because, well, that’s how it deserves to be written. When I say spiritual, I don’t mean new age or airy-fairy or to do with moons or incense or Glastonbury Tor, but spiritual in the sense of a set of guidelines to live by, to live life fully and in peace.I have a sense of something that’s become very real and present in the last couple of days, and I’m feeling moved to get it written down.

I want to write about some of the bare, painful realities of one of my experiences with dealing with Crohn’s, as well as about the hard-won lessons I’m learning from the experience.

The last month has been a dark one, health-wise; as I mentioned in my last post, everything seemed to go out of balance all at once, and I’ve found myself in many ways back to the level of health I was at a little after leaving hospital, but with a little less of the hope and optimism. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just how it is, and I mention it only to frame the rest of this post; I write this from my bed; I’ve been pretty much unable to get out of bed today because of an overwhelming nausea, extreme fatigue, pain and inflammation, and a lot of discomfort. Not to mention the diarrhoea, which has been ongoing for a month or so now, damn it.

I’m putting the sudden lapse in my recovery down to two things happening at once; I think I spent a few days ingesting bone broth that had gone off before I realised it, and also I started on my carb-free diet to kill off the Candida overgrowth.

What I didn’t really take on board was that when Candida dies, it releases 79 toxins into the body, including Ammonia and Ethanol. The body then has to work overtime to absorb and eliminate these toxins- the Liver bears the brunt of the work, and it can be quite a strain on the poor thing.

That strain was increased in my case by the fact that I’d accompanied the diet with a large amount of natural anti-fungals such as Wild Oregano Oil and Uva Ursi, to help kill off the infection and the overgrowth more quickly. Add the minor food poisoning I’d got from the stale bone broth, and my body has become a battleground.

The inevitable consequence of this situation – it’s known as “die-off” or “Herxheimer’s syndrome” is a whole host of side effects such as nausea, inflammation, flu-like symptoms, upset stomach, rashes, and lots of other things that you experience when your body is trying to deal with toxins; in short, I kind of accidentally poisoned myself with my own body.

A visit to the hospital confirmed that my inflammation markers are normal, so although the symptoms are identical, I’m not, apparently, having a Crohn’s flare-up. It just feels like it. So I need to have patience, wait for the antibiotics to help reduce the infection and inflammation, and, well, that’s it.

My natural tendency just then at the end of the last paragraph was to write something like “and hope I’ll feel ok soon” or something else equally optimistic and hopeful about the future being brighter than this current uncomfortable present. And here is what I’m really writing this post about. When I’m in pain, be it emotional or physical, or even in discomfort, my habit is often to avoid it; to do all I can to turn away from it, to think about how much I don’t want this in my life, about how much better my life would be without this particular annoyance or upset. I’m pretty sure this resistance is part of the human condition- we all do it, a great deal of the time, whether it’s looking at the clock impatiently, willing our lunch break to arrive, or being cross at something someone has said or done, or something that we have said or done. We’re constantly turning away from now, thinking and hoping and avoiding our lives away, missing the actual moment that we’re experiencing right now – the only moment we can ever experience.

When I was in hospital, there were nights when I experienced some extreme pain – the morphine didn’t touch it, but made me trip out in a dark and gnarly acid-like way – the halogen lights were never switched off; I was woken every four hours, to the minute, by a nurse who wanted to check my blood pressure, and I was awoken, if I had managed to get to sleep at all, every half hour or so by a fellow patient crying out, or by a nurse helping another, talking at normal volume, uninterested in the need for the people in the room to be able to sleep.

One of these nights, I had dashed to the tiny, grimy bathroom to agonisingly empty my bowels for the umpteenth time, and I sat there, morphine-induced psychedelia turning up the contrast on the blood in the pan and the rust on the ageing chairs and wash basin, the sound of the ever-dripping tap increasing the nausea from compete exhaustion sweeping me in waves. When I finally gathered the determination to return to my bed, I saw that one of the patients had become delirious, and pulled something out of his arm; there were large pools of blood all over the floor, and the man knelt, rocking, muttering something unrecognisable repeatedly, while a bewildered nurse tried desperately to clean the floor.

I stumbled back to my bed in stoned horror, as the post-op pain from that last bowel movement began to engulf me. My humility and dignity were in tatters as I lay there, helpless in the flimsy hospital gown, to weak to get properly into bed, in too much pain to try, and emotionally a wreck what I’d just witnessed combined with morphine, the constant sleep deprivation and the come-down from the surgery anaesthesia, drenched in a deep despair and desperate loneliness as I longed to be home and safe and well and loved.

I started to cry; it was simply more than this being had ever experienced before, it was beyond my capacity to deal with it, so I simply let it go. And I don’t know quite how it happened, but I found myself being held by an angel, a motherly, compassionate nurse – an incredibly rare thing on the night shift, in my experience – and she gathered me up in her arms and just held me, not trying to stop my from sobbing, or to make better, but just allowing me to be how I was.

As my crying and sobbing and groaning was allowed, so it increased, and I instantaneously let go of all the resistance that I had built up to what had happened to me; the feeling of being a victim, the wanting to be home, the wishing for the pain to stop. And it was obvious that all of those things were additional problems that I had added on top of the experience in the present moment. Those pockets of resistance were created by me,  not by the illness.

And in the arms of that nurse as I sobbed, I saw that I couldn’t do anything about the pain or the discomfort, but the suffering was purely my own doing. The turning away from now created more pain, more tension, more unhappiness. And I let the resistance go, and I turned toward the pain, and I experienced it fully, completely, and I allowed the crying fully and completely, and it was happening to me it it was also happening as part of the entire workings of the whole of life, one single voice in an entire choir, and I saw that this couldn’t ever be anything other that what it was in that moment, the same as every moment, the same as every happening in our lives.

Here, the pain took on a poiniancy, and kind of majestic ‘isness” which didn’t ask to be avoided or turned away from, and it didn’t lessen, but was accompanied by a grace that showed me that I had the capacity to bear it, and that it had to be like this, because this was what was happening, and that resistance caused the suffering, and was completely unnecessary.

And the nurse saw that I had calmed down, and she helped me into the bed, and I drifted to sleep in the peace of the deepest acceptance, in the grace that is available to us all in every moment, when we let go of all struggling against what is.

So I lay here in bed as with a realisation that this healing journey is going to be as bumpy and difficult as I had first feared, and the lesson I learned that night has taken on a hugeness, a vitalness that I feel can’t be ignored.

To live each moment with the vigilance and intent to drop every pocket of resistance as it arises, to turn into each moment and live it fully, to surrender my wishes and wants and hopes and dreams to that grace, in the deep knowledge that everything is happening exactly as it should be, with life’s highs and lows and triumphs and disasters. To live in the knowledge that those things will happen whether we struggle against them internally or not, but the danger is that in the resistance, we miss the overwhelming beauty of now, and in doing so, we give up our very freedom to be alive, and we live our lives in a constant tension, an unconscious zombie-state of sleepwalking struggle, never living this moment, always in a future or past or alternative one.

To live in this surrender, this acceptance, is to live with a ‘yes’ to the whole of life. It’s to live without the bitterness of regret for what could have been, to live without the pain caused by the bitter disappointment of the crushed hope. It’s to live with the raw reality of now, the only moment we can ever live, to experience this life in all its forms with a vibrancy, an aliveness, a technicolor that can only arise from this freedom.

This to me is the meaning behind the horrific/beautiful symbolism of Christ on the cross, arms open, embracing all of humanity, first wavering, “Father, why have you forsaken me?”, before surrendering to the inevitability of that moment, at which point he ascends to heaven, to freedom, to liberation. To peace.

6 thoughts on “Real-life, gritty spirituality- Living with pain and illness.

  1. Mhairi says:

    Keep writing & fighting Paul…you’re doing such a brilliant job. Hang in there – this will all be worth it, I have no doubt. It’s beyond demoralising when it feels like you’ve taken 1 step forward and 2 back with the treatment process, but this is all moving you in the right direction. Sending loads of love and support your way. Mhairi xx

    • Thank you so much Mhairi, I really appreciate the support. I’m slowly getting there… I know you’ve been going through a lot of similar symptoms too, so I send you loads of love and support back 🙂 x

  2. Mhairi says:

    Thanks, that’s so sweet 🙂 We are both taking the power back though, one step at a time – health is on the way! Xx

  3. Sally Goodwin says:

    You write so beautifully Paul. Intense experiences and the movement through/with. Inspiring, real and much appreciated.

    • Sally, I’ve only just seen your comment – I got quite ill so haven’t been up to blogging until now. Thank you so much for your kind words, they mean loads to me; I feel very motivated to continue to write about this journey, thank you.

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