The Gift of Pain

I borrowed the title of
this post from the book of the same name by Dr
Paul Brand
and Phillip Yancey.

As the Zondervan synopsis puts it

Pain is not something that most of us would count as a blessing; however, what it is and why we need it if we’re to live life fully is brought to light in this book.

I was caused to think about this because I have recently had the experience
of being unwell.

Normally, I would think of this as being an unfortunate experience. I don’t
like being unwell. I’m not a good patient.

However, this time, even though the experience was very unpleasant, I felt, even
when I was still unwell that something significant (perhaps even profound)
was happening for me.

My illness was depression expressing
itself mainly in the form of severe anxiety. I am not particularly prone to
depression although I have experienced a significant episode once in the past.
It has been a long time since I have experienced anything that you could call
more than mild.

Last winter, I can remember getting out of my car on a cold and gray day. I
felt dull. I had mild to low anxiety about my prospects for work. I just felt
unhappy. I knew if it had been a sunny day I would have felt happy. From time
to time I wake up and feel that familiar feeling of the beginnings of depression.
I fight it. I get up and do something and the feeling goes away.

Having once experienced a prolonged period of depression, I felt strongly
that I didn’t want to return to that place. I made sure that I made
myself active. I knew that physical exercise was a good antidote for depression.
So I make sure I swim at least four mornings a week. It wasn’t a mania trying
to hide depression, it was just some techniques I had learnt that were good
for managing it.

It all seemed to work. I knew depression could return, but I thought (and pretty
much still do think) I was managing it OK.

Then, one day about two months ago, pretty much out of the blue it pounced
on me. I had experienced waking with that familiar dull feeling a couple
of times in the days preceding but after my morning exercise, it went away.
It’s a bit like a cold. You get a sore throat and wonder if it is going to
develop into anything further. Often it just goes away. It’s
the same with depression. I get those first feelings and wonder if it is
going to develop. Later I’m relieved that it hasn’t.

There is always somethig to get depressed about if I let it. Work prospects.
Whether I like the work I’m doing. Whether I will ever get to do the work
I really want, and feel called, to do. What other people think of me. The
list goes on and on. Most times, it is a reminder that I need to do something.
There is something on my mind (often only semi consciously) that I feel I
should do. Really something I want to do in order to achieve a goal – something
like developing a proposal to a client or, harder still, making that first
contact with a prospective client. I am avoiding the hard thing and depression
is my reminder. Most times I respond with some action and the black
dog
is
sent away again for the time being.

This time seemed no different. I had been through a difficult experience
which made me quite angry but at the same time left feeling quite helpless
and impotent. The experience involved my life partner being portrayed in
the media (probably the first time in her life anything she did had been
the subject of media attention) in what I thought was a very unfair and very
inacurate. However, I thought I was handling it OK.

At the same time, I am currently in the process of establishing a new
business
which is an important gamble for me. This business is about doing
what I feel called to do – if it doesn’t work, I will feel I have failed in
my life’s mission.

So it was one day I woke up feeling deeply depressed. I knew the feeling
but had no idea how long it would last. Would it be a couple of hours, a
couple of days or would it really set in? This time, it did set in. Over
the next several weeks I was on a roller coaster ride, many times experiencing
overwhelmening anxiety and helplessness.

I ended up taking almost two weeks off work – something I would have told
myself I couldn’t afford to do. Often just having to sit in a chair for
an hour at a time telling myself over and over again that it was OK to stop
and rest. I was no use to myself or to anyone else if I did not get well.
Other times I just had to go for a long walk just to manage these overwhelming
feelings which often came on as suddenly as being hit by a truck. One night
I had to get up before we had finished our family meal and go for a walk.

Over this time, with the help of medication and the support of those around
me the highs and lows of the roller coaster have levelled out.

Looking at myself now, I would say I was well again.

So, why is this a gift?

It is a gift on many levels.

At one level, it forced me to stop for a while and look at my lifestyle
and what was really important to me. What did I really want to achieve in
setting up this new business? What did I want to achieve for myself in my
personal life? Included in this level was the opportunity for my partner
and I to spend many lovely hours together doing things we would normally
think we were too busy to do. Things like visiting nurseries and buying plants
for the garden.

On another lever, this experience has given me a stronger empathy for others.
It has deepened my committment to the work I do – guiding others to find
their deepest purpose. It has reminded me this is my purpose. It
enabled me to reconnect with my strong as steel commitment to this personal
purpose.

At yet another level it has enabled me to experience connectedness with
others on a plane we often do not get a chance to do. I decided early on
that I would be honest with others about my illness. I wouldn’t say I had
the flu, I would say I have been suffering depression. I was a little afraid
of doing this initially. How would people react? I need not have been. Every
time I have discussed it with someone it has led to a deepening of the conversation.
Often, very quickly it leads to us discussing life’s greatest issues as the
concern us personally. Have we achieved what we wanted to achieve? Is our
current path leading us in the direction of achieving what we want? What
do we think about the work we are currently doing? How do we think about
ourselves in our work? Do we like ourselves?

None of these conversations would have occured at the level they did if
I had not had the experience of being unwell.

I didn’t like it at the time. It was awful – and I have only experienced
it for a few weeks. Yet, without doubt, it was gift.

What do we mean by “Rich?”

This week’s edition of BRW is another of
its so called ‘Flagship editions’. These editions invariable involve a list of
the top so many of such and such. It was a landmark when they produced the first BRW
1000
list of the top 1000 companies in Australia. However, I’m getting
a bit tired of what seems like every month they produce a new list of the "top"
whatever. This time it is the Rich
200
. A list of Australia’s wealthiest people.

It made me wonder what we mean by "rich" and why it matters to us so much?

My current book is Phillip Yancey’s volume Soul
Survivor
(How my faith survived the Church.). A book I highly recommend
– even if you are not interested in the concept of faith. Yancey writes about
his journey of faith by reviewing the lessons he learned from the lives of people
he has either met or he experienced through what they wrote or what was written
about them. Chapters cover people such as Martin
Luther King Jnr.
, Leo
Tolstoy
, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Mahatma
Gandhi
and C.
Everett Koop
.

In each case, Yancey both praises the contribution each made and clearly portrays
each person’s failures, complexities and personal dilemmas.

While I have been rivetted by each chapter, the BRW Rich 200 made me think
of Gandhi. Here was a man who held no formal office, wore only a rough hand
woven loin cloth and possessed only what he carried with him. Yet Gandhi almost
certainly procurred the independence of the world’s second most populous nation
and profoundly influenced not only India, but the United States (through his
influence on King) and other parts of the world. Could any of us imagine how
different the world would be today if Gandhi had never lived? In one hundred
years will Kerry or James Packer even be remembered? Probably by some. Will
anyone regard their legacy as profoundly good for the world?

Gandhi’s life challenges almost all of what we stand for in the West. When
we compare our wealth with others we fret not that we are not wealthy, but
that we are not as wealthy as someone else.

Like Yancey, I found Gandhi’s life challenging. I like my gadgets. I write
this on an Apple MacBook Pro 17 which
goes with me everywhere and an iPod. I have a mobile phone, a NextG modem
which enables me to connect to the internet anywhere I am. I live a 200m2
home and drive a new car. There a five computers in my house. I haven’t even
begun to describe the extent of my posessions. Am I happier than Gandhi? Do
I feel more fulfilled? I can’t imagine doing what Gandhi did giving up posession
after posession and living more and more simply. Living simply itself appeals
to me, but I can’t imagine myself taking even one hundreth of the steps Gandhi
took to this end.

This challenges me and I don’t know the answer to this as a personal dilemma.
However reading about Gandhi has brought home to me that acquiring more and
more wealth is not going to make me happier. It has caused me to re-examine
my personal and business goals. It has led me to think once more about how
I set my fees. I don’t know where this will lead me. This could sound trite
and self serving but I hope it doesn’t – "all I can say is that I am on my
own Spiral Path."