“It’s probably a merciful thing that pain is impossible to describe from memory.” -Christopher Hitchens
I have lived in pain for twenty years now. The effects of which have shaped my life in countless ways. There are good days and bad days—and there are times the pain is so intense, I have to stop what I’m doing. It is frustrating to have such limitations, but I’ve no choice in the matter. Chronic pain becomes exhausting, especially when it affects sleep. It influences what I decide to do and my focus becomes mitigating it as much as possible.
When one goes through something devastating in their life, the cliché is that the person is strong. It is just what we say to make ourselves feel better about the horrible situation. Human frailty seems to be a feature, not a bug. When something tragic occurs, there is a tendency to think of yourself as less whole than you once were. I grieved for a time for the period in my life when I was healthy, but as time passed and it became more difficult to remember myself when I wasn’t limited by my pain.
The most profound lessons I’ve learned in the past twenty years is you aren’t special, you don’t deserve what you get and the universe is indifferent to your suffering. I thought my injury made me unique, but then you realize that most people will experience a traumatic event sometime in their life. The way in which I became injured was uncommon, but bad things happen to everyone. No one is immune from tragedy and incidents are presumably random. Accepting the inequity of chance excludes the perception that you were the cause of what happened to you. While it may seem to be a way to deny guilt, it is actually more representative of reality. After all, you already won the genetic lottery just by being born and no one blames you for it.
One gains an appreciation for all the fortunate things that have happened in one’s life in contrast to the number of terrible events. As author John Steinbeck observed, “What good is warmth without cold to give it sweetness?” The trajectory of my life changed on June 7, 1999, but I’ve been very lucky have added to my days. As time has gone by, I care far less about what my life would be like without the pain. Just ten years after being injured, I met my wife, Stephanie, who has supported me constantly. Our son, Robert, is such a joy in our lives. These two things make the suffering bearable. I wouldn’t trade my life now for anything else in the world. I am happy.