This month is Mental Health Awareness Month and the second anniversary of The Authentic Thinker. I chose to shine the spotlight on my friend, Jasmine Raskas. An artist, athlete, and fellow blogger, she’s taught me much about strength, open-mindedness, creativity, and perseverance. I encourage you to explore her essay with curiosity and compassion, and I hope personal insight is your takeaway.
A Stolen Awareness: The Intersection of Physical and Emotional Pain
By Jasmine Raskas
The overlapping characteristics of physical and emotional pain are complex. The intersection lies at the essence of the struggle and speaks truth to the commonalities of the human experience.
There’s lot’s of writing on the similarities and correlations between chronic pain and mental health disorders, most commonly anxiety and depression. Instead of exploring whether one can lead to the other, this article is instead focused on the overlap of the actual experience of suffering. As someone who’s lived a lifetime with chronic pain, I understand what it means to live in a way where just getting through the day is a struggle.
The symptom that declares the struggle is often the inability to focus. The capacity for clear thoughts and awareness is hindered. The ability to pay attention to anything other than the struggle may be totally lost. The resulting effect of being stuck in a troubling thought loop is similar no matter what the source of the problem. This similarity in functional outcome seems to be why there’s so much overlap in the understanding of chronic pain and mental health disorders. Breaking the negative cycle and finding a way to think clearly amidst inner turmoil creates the space to reclaim a stolen identity. In the darkest places it can feel like you are being stolen from you.
I’ve developed a few ways out of this funk. The majority of my life has been a form of productive escapism. Escapism can be about running from the source of suffering or about using the source of suffering to fuel action. The latter of these methods is great at getting things accomplished. In our productivity-results driven society, this type of coping can actually appear as a desirable trait despite the origin of the drive. While this method works as a coping tool, I’ve seen the long term consequences on the heart and soul. Distractions are like a band aid that covers up a wound. They help in the acute phases of healing, but without a system in place to grow new skin, the band aid needs endless and timely replacement.
Prolonged distraction prevents opportunities for true healing and can cause greater confusion about the sense of self. One can run so far from the pain that there’s no longer an attachment to the person inside of the meat suit. The pause to evaluate the healing of deeper wounds provides the opportunity to reconnect to all of the beauty and brokenness within. It can be extremely difficult to accept and love the whole self within the context of suffering, but I believe that doing so is the key to maintaining strength and perseverance. Visiting the troubling thoughts, sensations, or emotions with pure kindness is imperative to staying grounded in the “I” of awareness. Periods of pausing to be fully present with yourself prevent becoming detached from your deepest self.
Believing the validating of the inner struggle is imperative for acceptance of the whole self. Society pushes the idea that believing our suffering is akin to succumbing to it. In actuality, it’s likely the first step towards finding a way out. To deny oneself the right to believe in the present reality is a complete rejection of the validity of self. People living with chronic emotional and physical pain syndromes must be allowed and supported in their own judgements. The inner battle for attention is exhausting. There are times to escape, there are times accept, and there are times we stumble into true wellness. The greatest gifts the world can give us are belief, patience, and respect. There’s no need to understand anyone else’s battle, just to accept its presence without judgement of its origin.