27 May, 2019

Putting Pain in Perspective: Pain Olympics Revisited

I’ve been thinking about writing about the Pain Olympics again for a couple of years, after a particular encounter. In the meanwhile though, I thought I might copy the majority of a post I wrote back in 2012. I’ve made a few edits to update it, as it was written at a very particular time in my life. (If you’re interested, you can read it in full, and the comments, here).

There’s a lot said in our community about the Pain Olympics – that there shouldn’t be a judgement about who has the most pain, who has it worse. I’ve been hearing this for ten years (edit: by now, it has been 17 years). And I will admit that I’ve never been completely comfortable with it.

I don’t agree that there are no degrees of pain, that all pain is the same. It’s not. My stubbed toe is not as painful as your broken arm. Your broken heart is different from my hurt feelings. Speaking personally, my TGN is – most of the time – scarier now than my childlessness.

But that doesn’t mean we are not allowed to feel those feelings. Just because someone might be grieving or hurting worse than us, it doesn’t mean that our own pain is not legitimate, and that we’re not allowed to grieve. Anyone grieving, hurting, vulnerable and/or stressed deserves our sympathy. Acknowledging someone else’s pain does not diminish our own.

I am going to speak personally here though. Playing Pain Olympics helps me to put my own pain into perspective. Perhaps it is easier for me to do this now, because I’m no longer infertile (ie I am no longer trying to conceive), because I’m comfortable with my life, because I can look back and see my progress. My pain when I lost my first and second pregnancies, when I thought I was facing cancer, and when I learned I would never have children – this was real pain, and intense. I struggled to pull out of it. I remember being told I might have cancer. I couldn't process it, and focused only on the grief that it would mean I couldn't have children. That was the bigger pain for me at the time. My doctors and nurses couldn't quite understand it - but it was my pain, and it was legitimate.

Still, even then, I knew that at least (at the time) I had my health, I was financially secure, I had my brain. I knew that there were others worse off than me. And I think that perspective was important. It allowed me to pull myself out of the doldrums. It allowed me to move on.

So as our pain fades, I think it is only appropriate to put it in perspective. As new pains emerge, it is then easier to put them in perspective too. Perspective is important. But I’m talking about our own, personal perspectives. We do all stand and judge other people’s pain, even if we try not to. It is inevitable. Other people might look at me and say “you never had anything, you never lost anything, you don’t deserve to feel pain over your pregnancy losses, over the fact you can’t have children.” We all know that’s not true. I know what my infertility has meant to me in my life. They don’t. Someone else can’t put your pain in perspective for you! It implies they are not sympathetic, that our pain doesn’t matter to them, that it is trivial, and that we don’t deserve to grieve.

Equally, I can’t try to tell anyone that their pain is less or more than mine (even if I think it). I can however tell myself where my pain fits on the scale. (The scale? My scale, perhaps?) And I will. This doesn't mean I don't let myself grieve. I have, and I do. When it is necessary. But crucially, I also remind myself when I should be grateful too. If I didn’t do that, if I didn’t develop that perspective, I could drown in my own pain, and yes, my own self-pity. If I didn’t put my pain into perspective, I think I’d struggle to understand that I have a glass half full, not half empty. It is what helps me survive.

When I wrote the original post, I’d been through three of the worst weeks of my life, suffering intense physical pain and real fear. But it didn’t last, and I knew I was lucky. The –physical pain receded, and although it has returned, I know too that I am lucky that medication keeps it under control. This isn’t the case for others who suffer, and I feel for them. Then, as I do writing this today, I look out the window, at a beautiful autumn day, at the blue sky, at the setting sun on the trees, and listen to the birds serenading me from the trees above me. I can breathe in, and feel good. Because I know, that right this moment, I don’t have it so bad.

Pain Olympics. They put it all in perspective, and make everything easier to accept. In my view, they are a most important part of healing.

20 May, 2019

Blogging on the road

As you read this, I’m in my second city in a new country today, and I'm probably out sightseeing. Though I have read that there is a saying from this town, which goes something along the lines of ... “you can forget your lunchbox, but never forget your umbrella!” Hopefully I’m not getting too wet! (If you follow my Instagram “at travellingMali” you’ll be able to see where I am.)

This month is definitely going to be one of those times I can be appreciative of all I can do because I don’t have children. It isn’t neutral (see my last post), it is very definitely a positive in my life this month and next. You see, my sister-in-law and family came to this country during the April school holidays. They missed the cherry blossoms (there’s a hint) because they were tied to school holidays, and my brother-in-law was frustrated that there were theme parks and comic museums to visit, when he wanted some culture. My sister-in-law was complaining that the kids didn’t like experimenting with food, so I’m not sure how much she was able to do so. We aren’t getting the cherry blossoms either, but we’re happily avoiding the theme parks and comic museums, and we’re also able to avoid some of the crowds, because we’ve avoided most countries’ school holidays. And I’m looking forward to the food, as I write this in advance. I am very grateful about that.

Blogging when travelling is not always easy. Over the next few weeks, I’ve written some posts in advance, and I’m going to repost a couple too. Some of the big hitters, which have had a big audience, might be worth revisiting. I’ll be in and out of No Kidding regularly, and will try to keep up with comments, and with your blogs too.

13 May, 2019

Removing the No Kidding childless filter

Infertile Phoenix wrote a great post the other day, about doing an activity purely for the joy of doing the activity. She wasn’t affected by the perhaps bittersweet thought that she was only doing it because she didn’t have children. She was just taking pleasure in what she was doing.

I really loved that sense of peace, and mindfulness, that she found. I love that she found that she didn’t need to relate it to whether she had children or not. Sure, I’ve written my share of posts about what I can do because we don’t have children. As time passes, that it becomes easier to do this. And it got me thinking about the stages of this process.

At first, it was bittersweet, bringing sadness. I’d find I might think along these lines – “Yes, I can do this, but I’d rather have the children and be doing things with them.” 

Then it became "I wouldn't get to do this if I had children" that was tinged with guilt. "How can I enjoy my new life without children?" I'd ask myself guiltily, not realising that it was a healing process, and that joy in the future didn't mean I deserved the loss that had brought me here.

Finally, it became “yippee, look at all the fabulous things I’m doing because I don’t have children.”  

So for some years, I realise that I have related a lot of my life to the fact I didn’t have children – disadvantages and losses, as well as the freedoms and positives of not having them.

Now though, it’s not an either/or. Whilst I can relate some issues of my life to my No Kidding childless state, both positive and negative, I cannot and do not relate all of it to that. I think it becomes easier to do as we age. Many of my friends are now almost as free as I am – their children have left home, and are independent or becoming independent. They can make the same choices I can. So the No Kidding filter has become less necessary, less relevant, to me.

Now, my life is my life. I don’t have to see it all through that childless filter. I just see it as it is. And that is a freedom in itself. From pain, from regret. The sting has gone. And it allows me to just be me. And “just being me” is pretty darn good.