You would think, with the number of surgeries and painful medical procedures I’ve undergone in the last few years, that I would be somewhat inured to physical discomfort. Or, at the very least, less of a baby.

If you thought that, you would be wrong.

Here’s the weird thing about me: I can bear pain. Quite a lot of it, actually. But the anticipation of pain is excruciating. My haywire nervous system prepares for battle, sending adrenaline zinging through my body. Except I’m not actually in, you know, a battle-battle. I might just be in a chair in the endodontist’s office, fingernails digging into the vinyl armrests, trying not to panic-drool onto my paper bib as the doctor casually announces, “Yeah, I think we’ll just go ahead and do the root canal right now.”

“WIGH NOW?!” I ask, my mouth wedged open with a bright blue dental dam. “SHERIOUSHLY?”

Yes, sherioushly.

I thought I was just here for a freaking consult. I am not prepared for spontaneous root canal. No one likes surprise dental work. I might have taken an anti-anxiety medication. Or at least steeled myself for drilling and scraping and other forms of medieval torture. I probably should have peed earlier, because the adrenaline is NOT helping in that department.

“Are you okay?” the kind assistant asks.

“Oh, yesh,” I say, mortified, as tears streak down the side of my face. “Don’ min’ dish.” I gesture to the tears. “Jush a nervoush ting.”

It ends up taking 16 injections to numb me enough. (Fun fact: you metabolize anesthetic really quickly when your heart is beating like a hamster’s.) I keep having to tell them: “I can still feel that!”

When it comes to root canal, numb is good. But that doesn’t work for all pain. When life gets really…life-y, all I want is to be numb. Or, I think that’s what I want. But the truth is that numbness is not a good long-term strategy. Numbness is the bleak gray of apathy. It’s the torpor of depression. It’s the blank despair of stifled empathy and compassion. Numbness doesn’t take away the problem. It just walls it off until the pain builds to tsunami-like proportions and overflows.

If I can’t feel the pain, I’m unable to receive the message it’s trying to give me. And worse, I can’t experience joy, gratitude, connection, or wonder. It’s a terrible system, to be honest. Who’s idea was this, anyway? If you want to feel the good stuff, you have to put up with a sea of crap? Why is this business of being human so messy and ridiculous?

All I know is that I’m not willing to give up the bright nuggets of goodness, even if it means there will be some measure of suffering. In fact, when I am in a clinical depression, as I am at the moment, I’m grateful for the pain. Because joy might be elusive at the moment, but I can still feel that. And that means I haven’t slid all the way down into the nothingness. There is hope, and that is the message I need to hear.

Here are some questions to get you in the grateful space:

  • What have you survived that surprised you?
  • How did you cope, or how are you coping?
  • What have you learned about yourself?

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Until next time,

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