Finding a Purpose (In Spite Of Living With Chronic Pain)


Dear Henry,

I'm currently in the middle of a class on the Holy Spirit by Father Dave Pivonka called The Wild Goose. During the film, Father Pivonka spoke of being on a flight that, because an unruly passenger had locked themselves in the bathroom, had to be re-routed and land so that the passenger could be removed by the police. The plane, then again, had to re-route because it needed to refuel. He used this as an example of how life can get out of control and how, through our faith, we should be able to speak to one another with love and kindness (aka talk with the Holy Spirit), even in bad situations.

Immediately, I thought about the worst flight I was ever on, from Hawaii to Dallas, where I was stuck in the back of the plane, in between two big guys and behind another - who was super awesome and laid his seat all of the way back. It was a grueling eight-hour flight, and I was in so much pain that I practically crawled off the plane in Dallas, and despite wearing compression socks, I still swelled up like a pumpkin because the movement of my legs had been so restricted. It was a terrible flight, and it was also the last time I flew coach (we've also, to ensure this NEVER happens again, signed up for the loyalty program, the credit card with airline perks, and even purchased stock in the airline). Had someone on THAT flight locked themselves in the bathroom and made it any longer, I would have been sorely tempted to pull the door off the bathroom and push the person out of the emergency exit without needing a landing. I most certainly would NOT have been speaking with the Holy Spirit.

Pain (for an explanation of why I'm in pain, click here) and its management seem to dictate many of my actions and the majority of my emotional responses. And I so often feel that the only thing anyone ever hears is the sound of my pain. It isn't nice. People don't appreciate it, and although there are "reasons," they are entirely "beside the point" when I've hurt someone's feelings.

My usual method of coping involves doodling/coloring while endlessly running through the Rosary, various litanies, or, when it's really bad, Gregorian chants. The Hallow app, with its library of prayers, is one of my greatest aids (try it for three months free here). It really isn't a bad way to spend time, and I rather enjoy it. The problem is, I don't think I was called to be a religious. Rather, I think I am meant to be a storyteller (a feeling that was reaffirmed while at the Woody Guthrie Center), and I often feel unable to rise to the task.

It's frustrating, and I always feel like I am wasting the miracle of my survival.

I've been reading (surprise!), talking with my pastor, and praying a lot about this lately, and while I haven't learned any new techniques for pain management - (as an aside, I would like to express my tremendous disappointment that my beloved Catholic church, with its long history of stigmatics and redemptive sufferers (of which I am neither), doesn't really have any better techniques than the ones I'm already using - I think I have discovered something.

I think I may be making too much of everything else and not enough of myself.

The one big commandment we all must follow is to love God with everything we have. The second is to love our neighbor as much as ourselves, and I am beginning to realize that if I have allowed myself to become so uncomfortable that I can't talk to someone else from a place of love rather than pain, I haven't been loving myself enough to fulfill the second commandment. There will be many times that I will need accommodations, and, most importantly, I can't allow myself to be around people who don't love me enough to allow for that accommodation, nor can I be near those who cause me pain. So I've had to become ruthless in cutting people out of my life, and it's been really hard and really sad.

As far as the frustration with my productivity goes, I've always believed God talks to us through coincidence and repeated patterns, and "I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you" (Psalm 32:8) keeps coming up. I suppose this means that I need to quit worrying about how I will achieve my purpose and trust that I will fulfill it one way or another, and maybe not in the way I suspect.

My only option then, really, is to make sure that I can do it with love.

xoxo a.d. elliott


a.d. elliott is a wanderer, writer, and photographer currently living in Salem, Virginia. 

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