Step into the Light
After months of the same cranial thunderstorm, dimming the lights and hushing voices don’t promise the same comfort that they did in the early weeks. The thoughts that accompany this medicinal silence-in-the-dark begin to grow louder than the music I could listen to, the show I could watch, or the children I could join in playing outside. The shadows in the room where I draw the curtains at midday smudge away another afternoon that will not go as I would have hoped.
After days, weeks, months of waiting for reprieve, I can’t sit anymore with the darkness, the silence, and only dream of a painless someday. So, I cut a deal with myself. Light and sound and thoughts get to send their invisible drill burrowing into my temples. I get to keep my mind from fracturing from the inside.
Some days I fight to act like myself. And then I feel guilty, because what if I’m only making recovery harder? But then sometimes I’m proud of myself, because I can do something. And then shortly after, I despair, because how can I possibly balance the two?
Pain is a thief and a liar too. Some of the theft I can do very little about. I simply cannot parent or work or study as effectively as I used to because of what pain has stolen. But the vacancies left shout a lie—that pain gets to set all the terms of what else will be taken, of what will still be mine, of what will be.
My inability to parent like I used to leaves me thinking I cannot love my children well. A slower pace at work causes me to wonder if I’m accomplishing anything at all. The struggle to read more than a few pages at a time tempts me to give up on a degree I started nine years ago and already dropped for health reasons once before.
The lie says that pain can strip away my ability to love, or to be curious about the world, or to know anything for sure. As pain forces performance and competence to slip through my fingers a bit more each day, I wonder if my very essence has joined them. Am I losing my grip on me?
I often feel like I am, but the truth is that my self is not pain’s to take. Pain may touch everything in my life these days, but it cannot have everything. I won’t leave the terms of my life up to a thief who says that until I can care for my kids by myself again, or write a paper as fast as I used to, or some other arbitrary standard that could only come from darkness, I forfeit the right to show love or express curiosity. I feel terrible enough already without the absurd guilt that now tempts me when I listen to an episode of This American Life or slowly make my way through the latest essay on Longreads, like I’m the one stealing something.
I need to be free to wonder about more than a diagnosis, free to love more than the thought of being well, free to believe that Jesus draws near to me now just as joyfully and lovingly as he does when I’m at the top of my performance and competence game. The only person keeping me from that freedom, really, stares back at me in the mirror. I can blame the pain all day, and the fact that my back and arm feel like a well-used dartboard as I type this certainly implicates pain as a co-conspirator. But the choice ultimately belongs to me, and I’m choosing love, curiosity, and belief—even, perhaps especially, if they have to be reimagined for a while.
Pain would like full rights to “The Steep” too, but I’m not signing them over. I’m going to bring some of that freedom—to wonder, love, believe—over here. We’ll see what happens when I turn on the lights and listen to other voices.