Holding on to Happy as You Journey Through Deep Pain

Life can suddenly become pain filled. It’s a challenge to hold on when one day of pain blends into the next day of pain and then drones on and on into the next. Can you be both happy and in chronic pain at the same time?

The little images I draw help me thrive with chronic anxiety and dull facial nerve pain. They help me hold on to “happy”. This is my story:

It’s the phone call no one wants to receive – the cancer call. I received mine in May of 2013. My own thyroid had been a persistent foe for almost twenty years, and now it would be surgically removed. I had papillary thyroid carcinoma. My doctor and friends around me encouraged me with the fact that “If you’re going to have to go through cancer, this is the one to have. No worries. No chemotherapy. No traditional radiation. No problem.”

Surgery was on June 4. No problems? No. Problems.

My vocal chord was injured. My voice sounded tight and gravely. I couldn’t talk, sneeze, hiccup, or even cough normally. “You’ll regain function in a couple days,” I was told. Days turned to weeks.

Swallowing became a great source of panic. Would “it” go down or get stuck? I prayed a million times a day. My throat closed in the middle of the night a couple months into healing. I woke up and couldn’t inhale – lunging for the bathroom I gulped some water and forced it down, opening the area somehow.

I clung to Jesus every minute I was awake and told myself what was true about Him. That is how I started to push the panic away . . . one minute at a time. Eventually my throat healed and loosened. In a little over two months I sounded more like myself – though the panic continued to hover around and whisper in my thoughts.

Six months later the glands in my neck stopped circulating fluid correctly – a complication of the radioactive iodine treatment needed to remove any remaining cancer cells after surgery. Infection set in. I had significant nerve pain on the right side of my face. My jaws, fluid filled, couldn’t chew much beyond a boiled egg. This lasted for over three months.

I was done in!

Through trial and error and medical help I slowly found ways to minimize the pain. But pain was my constant companion – even in my dreams.

I draw and doodle a lot. I also tend to read my Bible most mornings and enjoy journaling during my quiet time, writing down whatever speaks to me as I read God’s Word. One morning I came across Romans 5:3-5 in The Message Bible. The words are counter-intuitive to someone who is suffering. It reads:

“There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!”

Shout my praise? I didn’t even want to open my mouth! But shout in my soul, I did!! I began to find creative ways to SHOUT my praise, focusing on positive things, no matter how small. If it was sunny, I thanked God for the sun. I love color. I praised Him for variety and texture. I decided to thank Him for the creative solutions that were on the way to ease my pain in the future and I dug in deep. Drawing, doodling, and coloring became great ways to distract myself and I focused on God’s Word even more than before. A sweet connection beyond description was my reward.

I now have a new normal. I still have facial pain flare-ups, strangely it has moved to my left side over the past year. I’ve changed my lifestyle and the way I sleep and eat. My throat and injured vocal chord, are much improved, but will never be the same. I still pray and navigate through panic almost daily. But I don’t battle any of these things alone. I have God, the One who has creatively comforted me through it all.

A most tender gift in now mine. Because I suffer, I am more tuned in to the suffering of those around me. I see it more. Feel it more. I don’t always say or do the right thing but I’m not afraid of someone else’s pain. Somehow there is an open door now to enter into the suffering of others. It’s messy and brutal – but a sacred place.

GOD is big. I don’t have to know all the answers to defend Him to this hurting world. He can defend Himself. All I can do is enter into the mess, weep, and share my daily connection to my own creative Comfort. God.

It sounds strange, but I’ve personally found these last several years to be a tender teacher and what I’ve learned is surprisingly beautiful. Yes. I’m content in the place God has drawn out for me – happy, even through the tears.

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