The fear of suffering is far worse than suffering itself
To some extent this is true. Suffering sucks. I know a lot about suffering in the moment. I am suffering from a migraine this very moment that I have had continuously for days. I am suffering in the moment from nasty joint and muscle pain that has been painful enough to make it difficult to move and sleep for the last week.
If I dwell on it I can remember decades of migraines and decades of fibromyalgia pain. That is a lot of suffering. What has gotten from the past to the present most of the time is not thinking about it. Sometimes what has gotten me through it has been hoping that the pain will be less than it was at that moment. Sometimes what got me through it was the knowledge that eventually life would end and therefore at some point suffering would also end. Mostly, it is not thinking about it. Not thinking about how many years of it in the past, not thinking about how much there is in the present and certainly not thinking about there being no specific end date to it in the future (that way lies madness).
So how can my fear of suffering be worse than my actually suffering?
Because I know so much about it, of course.
I know how horrific it can be and I know the darkest places the mind will twist when I cannot escape pain knowing full well that even if the acute pain ends at some point the pain never does.
If I allow myself to fear future pain I will be debilitated by it. I know this because it has happened before. I know I have survived a long time with chronic pain and I know I have achieved a great deal, despite it, with it, along with those limitations… however you want to look at it. Because I didn’t fear it in-itself. It was something I endured, I tolerated, I worked around, I masked.
Yet when you work with chronic migraines that are not effectively treated you essentially exceed your pain limits every day and fail to meet everyone’s expectations… every day. You try to control the pain and the suffering for the sake of your job and others and your sanity… and you will never win, but you hope that you can push through it until some amazing medication comes along to make those daily migraines just slightly less frequent, slightly less horrific so you can endure.
When you fail to thrive, fail to want to survive… then you fear. What I’m saying is when you ultimately fail to thrive such that you actually choose to end your life, not just contemplate how nice it would be if you stroked out at work… then you fear yourself after failing such an attempt when the pain fog has cleared and sanity has returned. You fear if you were put in the same place again, with the same amount of pain in the future that the suffering would lead to the same state of mind.
That no one can endure that amount of suffering indefinitely. It creates this anxiety about your power to tolerate and handle pain in the future. About the very weight of all the pain in the future combined with the intensity of it when faced with working full-time. I have no choice about the pain… suffering is something we have some control over. Yet if the pain is too acute and you cannot trust yourself to make reasonable choices, then you fear to suffer. Yet you cannot fear suffering because then the pain will cripple you.
If you have chronic pain it is a fact of life… life being the operative word there. It is true when pain is too acute for too long life seems like just this existence that is a burden and a surreal one at that because pain distorts time and reality in odd ways. While I felt I needed to continue to work, and for various reasons still struggle with the idea of not working, I also feel like I need to survive. In order to control suffering we have to not exceed our limits… we have to change the parameters. Do what we have to in order to want to thrive first and foremost. I’ll tell you this… I never feared my ability to cope with pain before. Years of experience and all that. But how can you not have anxiety about it after? I still do a couple years after because my ability to cope was that compromised… and I was still working.
So now that I am not working that fear of suffering is greatly reduced. Well now that my long-term has finally been approved anyway. Yet it lingers because I don’t know how long it is going to last and I don’t know how to resolve the issue. In other words, working is stable. Not working never is and is constantly stressful. I’m trying to figure out how to be functional and useful. As well as reduce my suffering.
When you look at it from the perspective of the fear of all the future pain and the inability to cope with it. Or if you are currently deeply struggling with pain while working and barely holding on like I was… then there is a lot of fear there, fear of holding on one more day, fear of getting through it, fear of the Weight of it, fear that it will never end, fear of the very endlessness of it. And, yes, if you have chronic pain and it has caused you to think about suicide or attempt it… directly after and for about a year there is this anxiety about the future and this fear about your ability to cope because you now know you have this limit, this line you can cross, that you did not know about yourself before. At least with past pain, while it sucks to know we have compromised so much or given up so much, we have this knowledge that we have also endured so much, conquered so much and achieved so much even with the pain. Yet we all have these fears… and we all have ways to distract ourselves from pain and from thinking about future pain. Ways to cope. I just learned the hard way that I had more to fear about my ability to cope in the long term… or I suppose about holding onto work longer than I should have really.
The power, of course, is in the present. Present pain is what holds all the power. It is where that acute pain exists and therefore where we get trapped in it and therefore where we get fixated on any fears we have. Pain contorts our reality. Makes it feel like it is all that exists when we know there is far more to reality than that. Not in the moment though. You have to get through the moment. Any way you can. And then the next. I’m trying the mindful meditation techniques. Gets you out of that anxiety loop. Not out of the pain, but stops all that crap that spins in my mind. I overthink sometimes. Really overthink.
See also: 6 Chronic illness fears