Dear Pain

Hey Dr. Seuss
Hope you’re having a swell day
Today feels a bit broken
I wondered what you’d say

The cat in the hat appeared
With a smile on his face
“Kid, let me show you how
To waltz through this place

Life’s a little dance
Just learn to hear the notes
Soon you’ll be swinging
through days you burn toast

If you think today’s broken
I assure you it’s not
There’s sunshine and rainbows
In every stormy thought

Life won’t be all peachy
There’s pimples and knots
Sickness and mornings
You feel not so hots

Look on the bright side
You’re you’er than you
Mama loves you the most
That’s truer than true

So kid please remember
Downs don’t stay down
There’s a smile hiding
Beneath every frown”

Earlier this week, I shared a conversation with my older brother, Steve.

“How are you doing?” he asked. “Miserable! How are you?” “Miserable!”

After airing a few of the things bearing down on us, while encouraging the other, he stopped to ask me a question.

“Aaron, have you ever thought about blogging about your depression?”

The question startled me. After all, most of the posts I’ve written over the years tend to chronicle the positive moments, transitions, and growth experiences I’ve encountered along my journey through this thing called ‘life’. Opening the door to a part of me I like to keep hidden seemed to touch on a vulnerable nerve.

…as well as an outstanding idea. 

In an Instagram world, which only captures the highlights of millions of average lives, it’s easy to look at others and think their life is somehow more sparkly than yours. Comparison is the thief of joy…

Which brings me to my old friend, depression. We’ve been friends for many years now, and I’d be lying if I told you it wasn’t one of my more faithful companions; never leaving me alone for very long before reminding me that for every up, there’s an opposing down life throws at you.

Depression isn’t something to be afraid of. It simply means that your spirit is alive and working as intended. Remember, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Such is the law of our universe.

Depression seems to have gotten a black-eye in our world. It’s often seen as something to be fixed rather than felt. 

I can’t remember the last time I tried to stifle a gut-wrenching laugh, for fear it was ‘too much’ – yet, I’ve found myself try to push away feelings of depression rather than feel my way through them, and welcome the moments with gratitude and acceptance.

No, I’m not thrilled that I lost my Father to cancer in 2007. However, denying the reality of his departure would simply put me in a worse condition than accepting the loss and learning to process the pain.

For example, for many years I struggled to understand why a man with six children would avoid getting his cancer symptoms checked out by a doctor until it was…too late.

Did he not love me like he said he did? Am I not worthy of love? Was he just ready to go? 

All of these questions flooded my mind for years, which slowly chipped away at my own sense of self-worth. Somehow, I believed the lie that he chose to die, rather than fight.

That lie eroded at my self worth. I turned to drugs, alcohol, and worse – an unconscious mode of escapism to run from the feelings that felt too painful to deal with.

I believed the lie. The lie that I wasn’t enough…to love.

It wasn’t until last year that the curse of the lie was broken. How?

I scheduled my first colonoscopy.

I dreaded it. More than I’d like to admit. The fear of needles haunted me. Worse, I feared something else would come to the surface; an understanding of why Dad avoided seeing a doctor.

The day of the appointment, I walked to the clinic. Each step felt like a marathon, as I knew I’d soon have a dreaded needle stuck in my arm…

Donning a hospital gown, I walked to the bed and requested a butterfly needle from the nurses, as well as their most-skilled ‘sticker’ for the poke.

The nurse was summoned, and I broke down in tears on the bed as soon as she arrived. Waterfalls fell.

“I’m sorry…my Dad….I….”

“Honey, it’s ok.” she said, as she held my hand.

In that moment, I understood why Dad didn’t checked out, because I would have done anything to avoid what was about to occur. The tears fell as I realized it wasn’t because he didn’t love me but because the experience, itself, wasn’t a pleasant one.

A few hours and a couple of pre-cancerous polyps removed from my body, I was cleared to go home – reminded that I’d need to go through this experience every 1-2 years for the rest of my life.

I share this story because it was a moment where pain was dealt with in a healthy way. Rather than push and hide from the despair I felt – which had a strong root in fear – I leaned in to the pain and finally understood it.

There’s a saying in the bible that the truth sets you free. In my case, I learned that it was necessary to go to the root of pain and sit down with it, rather than to push it aside.

Depression operates in a very similar way. It requires that you give it room and space to simply be itself as it works through your spirit.

On the walk home from the clinic, I remember breathing the cold Portland air and marveling at how beautiful the day was, now that one of my darkest fears had been addressed.

Even your darkest hours have the opportunity to show you a glimmer of light; the True North your soul needs to find its way to purpose, presence, and fulfillment.

In my experience, depression hasn’t been something that I’ve felt needs to be fixed. Rather, each episode of pain has a hidden purpose behind it, if you’re willing to be present to the pain, and sit with it, rather than mask it.

I share these words with you, the reader, to help paint a better picture about both your life – and mine.

It’s uncomfortable to have moments where tears fall without explanation. However, it’s another circle of hell to feel like you’re the only one who goes through the pain you’re experiencing.

What heals a broken world is when the pieces don’t try to mend themselves, but to share their experiences with the other broken pieces and become whole through the process.

I’m not here to give you a solution for depression, because battling it doesn’t mean that you’re broken. Rather, it means that some part of you is working, which you may yet find understanding for.

In my experiences, what’s pulled me out of many dark funks has been a loving group of people who take time out of their days/nights to talk, be present, and listen. 

I’d like to leave you with this –

As somebody who has gone many years of running from dealing with emotions, there’s been no greater joy/freedom than looking the devil in the eye and finding the help, resources, and encouragement from others as they’ve stepped in to bear the toil of depression.

When you ask somebody to listen, or be present with you, I hope you remember that your ask isn’t selfish. It’s being authentic.

There’s nothing cute or authentic about painting on a smile and pretending like life is a bouquet of roses, when you feel like you’ve grabbed a fist full of thorns.

You have a place in this world, as you are. The hurts, pains, joys, and smiles are all a unique part of you.

Let them blossom.

  • Aaron – Wow. Thank you for this poignant and deeply personal post – art, poem, and blog. Dad would say, “It’s a ten – hold.” And I would agree. Walking with you through a lot of this. I love you!!

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