In this episode, I talk about suffering and ways we have a tendency to increase our own suffering.

  • What I’ve learned from my recent suffering
  • Going through intense physical pain and how it led to emotional pain
  • How our thoughts increase our suffering
  • How acknowledging pain and emotions can make you feel better
  • What are primary and secondary suffering?
  • Seeking God for clarity and getting into a place of acceptance
  • How to decrease your suffering

Links and Resources:

 Is Mindfulness for Christians? with Dr. Irene Kraegel
Book: 
You Are Not Your Pain

Transcript

Hope for anxiety and OCD episode 64 today’s episode is a solo episode where I wanna talk with you about how we unintentionally increase our own suffering. This is something that I feel like God has taught me through a process of more recent suffering. And I wanted to share it with you because even though my suffering was physical and then it turned into emotional suffering was like secondary.

As a result of the physical suffering. What I realized through the process was that people do the same things with emotional pain. So they experience emotional pain due to anxiety, O C D depression, other mental health issues. And then there’s this increase in more emotional pain in response to that initial pain and suffering.

As I’m recording this right now, I’m about 32 weeks pregnant. But when I was going through some intense physical pain, it was a lot earlier in my pregnancy, probably around, you know, weeks, 15. 20. I started experiencing this back pain. That was unexplainable. I didn’t know where it was coming from. I didn’t think I had done anything specific to have the back pain.

It was in a weird spot, but I was trying all of the self-help things that I knew to do. To help it such as, you know, providing heat for the sore muscles, looking up exercises, you know, what are some good back exercises during pregnancy? It got to a point where it wasn’t getting better. It was just progressively getting worse and worse and worse to the point where it was a daily occurrence.

And then I was essentially living for. The time that I could lay down, I would sit up, meet with clients. And then if I had any kind of break lunch or after work, I’d just lay down and collapse and put the heating pad on me. And that was about what I could do for several weeks. I would try to stretch or do some light exercises.

Sometimes I ended up aggravating some other areas of my body. What I. As I was experiencing that physical pain was that then there came some emotional pain that got latched in and connected to it. I started having. All kinds of thoughts about my pregnancy. Maybe I shouldn’t have gotten pregnant. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea.

At my age, if I had known I was gonna have to go through all of this physical pain, I wouldn’t have done it. I was angry at my doctor, who I felt like had set me up for failure because she had told me going into this process that I was healthy. I was angry at myself for not knowing more or not knowing how to fix this issue.

I was angry at God. You know, why have you allowed so many people around me to have good and healthy and you know, relatively pain, free pregnancies. And I’m over here suffering with all of this discomfort. So early on, and I know I still have over half of my pregnancy to go, what’s going on with that?

These thoughts would just keep churning around in my head. I couldn’t seem to find some kind of resolution for them or some kind of landing point to get to. And the thoughts themselves increased my own suffering because. . I was starting to think things like, okay, I have this many weeks of pregnancy to go.

I’ve got 23 weeks of pregnancy to go. Am I going to be in physical pain this whole time? Because I’m at a certain size right now, but I’m only going to get bigger if my back can’t handle this point in time. Then what’s gonna happen when I am in the third trimester where everybody says you have back pain, like I already have back pain in the second trimester and I can’t handle it now.

How in the world am I going to be able to handle it later? I went through. A two week period where I cried every single day, I was completely depressed and hopeless. My doctor had told me, well, you know, maybe this will get better. Maybe it won’t. And that was not what I needed to hear at that point. I needed her to give me some hope of let’s try X, Y, and Z to help these things.

Get better for you so that you don’t have to continue in suffering. But I had really held onto that, that this pain might not go away for the rest of my pregnancy. I remember one day I was lying in bed and I just started crying before I even got out of bed. And Steve came by, I was like, you know, what’s going on?

I don’t even wanna get outta bed because I know I’m gonna be in pain today. And I know I’m gonna have to deal with that and I don’t wanna deal with it. I don’t wanna do. When I got to really my lowest point, which is very scary to talk about, but I wanna share it because, you know, we all have really, really low points in our life and we have dark thoughts that we don’t ever talk about.

And so I. Just wanted to share one of mine, I guess, for, to make somebody out there feel a little bit less strange or less crazy in some way. I remember just praying and, and asking God that, that I could not be pregnant anymore. And that he just needed to take my baby because I could not handle this pain for.

20 more weeks. I could not do it anymore. And just cried and cried and cried. And I felt so guilty. Like I must be this absolute, horrible person. Like I just prayed. And I asked God to take my baby. Like how awful is that? So in the midst of going through this whole process, I had these emotions surrounding knowing that I have other people in my life who have been unable to have children that I love very much and other people in my life who are in the process of trying to have children.

And I thought, you know, you’re really ungrateful. You’re awful for thinking these thoughts because these people would love to be pregnant and they would love to have children. Certainly compounded to the emotional distress. Then not only was I feeling certain feelings and having very distressing thoughts, then I was compounding it by telling myself how wrong I was to have these thoughts and how wrong I was to have these feelings.

None of that help. Whenever we tell ourselves you don’t get to feel that instead of actually acknowledging our own feeling, we’re increasing our own suffering. Similar to thought sometimes feelings just happen. They just come up and we don’t even know why they’re there, but instead of shoving them down, trying to ignore them, not acknowledge them.

It’s better for us to be able to say, okay, I’m experiencing anger. Where I’m experiencing sadness, I’m experiencing anxiety. It’s okay for me to acknowledge that feeling. And then it’s also okay for me to be able to say, what can I do to help myself express release this emotion? Let it go and allow myself to enter into a calmer space or a happier space.

Those two things are not incongruent with each other. I just want to help you understand that sometimes people think if they acknowledge their emotion, that they’re going to somehow be stuck in. That typically isn’t usually the case. It’s more typical that if you acknowledge it and are able to process it and kind of allow it to flow through you, like a wave goes up and then you express it in a healthy way, hopefully, and then it comes down.

You’re able to release it and get to a place of feeling better. The more that you try to fight the wave, the longer it tends to stick around in an unhealthy sense. During this process, I was seeing a counselor who I ended up firing kind of funny because I really didn’t like what she had to say, even though she was right.

She told me that I needed to work on mindfulness skills and I. I don’t understand this. Like I know how to be mindful. I teach people mindfulness practice. I have a podcast episode on mindfulness. Like what, why are you telling me about mindfulness? Like how is that actually going to help this chronic pain issue that I’m dealing with?

After I fired her, actually went on Amazon and started looking for a book on. Mindfulness and pain. I found this book called you are not your pain by Birch and Penman. That absolutely transformed my experience with my pain. Having the physical pain is one thing or the emotional pain, but what Birch and Penman talk about is that we have primary suffering and we have secondary suffer.

Primary suffering is a physical sensation of pain or for people with anxiety. There’s a physical sensation that comes along with that. So it might be like a rapid heartbeat or difficulty breathing. There might be just a lot of tension in your body when you’re anxious. And so that’s the primary suffering.

Your primary suffering could be mental as well. Like constant worry. You know, I just can’t seem to get away from my thought process. It’s just going all the time and worrying about the future. But secondary suffering is like that piece that comes next. It’s that piece that we add on. So for the person with the rapid heartbeat, the secondary suffering is they tell themselves I’m dying.

When really they’re having a panic attack and understandably so when people first start to learn that they have panic attack, sometimes they don’t know. Sometimes they really do think they’re dying, but after you learn, oh, okay, this is a panic attack. This is something different. Then it’s like, you can reframe it and say, you know, there’s a difference between telling yourself my heart’s beating really fast and telling yourself I’m dying.

So my primary suffering was. Physical pain, but my secondary suffering was, I’m never gonna get out of this. I’m gonna have it for 20 more weeks. I don’t know how I’m going to get through this. I can’t do it anymore. I can’t face another day. God, why won’t you take this away? All of those things, the regret thoughts about I shouldn’t have ever gotten.

You know, I, I did this to myself. Why did I do this? Why did this happen? God, why did you allow me to become pregnant? If you knew I was gonna end up in this pain, all of that churning stuff is the secondary suffering. What I talk about in this book, you are not your pain is that mindfulness will help decrease your secondary suffering.

And as you decrease your. Secondary suffering then sometimes your primary suffering decreases as well. Not always, but at least you will have a different perspective on your primary suffering than you did before. One thing I learned for myself is that secondary suffering involves a process of grief and loss.

In my experience, I could remember thinking, I went into this thinking, I’m gonna have a healthy pregnancy. I’m gonna be a fit pregnant person that continues to work out. I had these expectations right. Of what it was going to be like. And then my expectations were completely blown out of the water.

Because all of a sudden I couldn’t work out. I couldn’t even do day to day life stuff that I needed to do. That was really hard for me to sit with knowing that when I used to be a member of the Y for example, I would go to these Zumba classes and there would be pregnant women in there dancing around and doing just fine.

And. You know, I thought that that was gonna be me one day and it wasn’t. I had to grieve that and be, really allow myself to be sad about that. I had to allow myself to be sad and also angry about the fact that I was now having to do extra things, such as go to physical therapy that I didn’t plan on doing and didn’t want to do quite frankly.

I didn’t want to go to physical therapy and do these exercises and have somebody poke on my back. I didn’t want to do those things, but that was what I needed to do. It was okay for me to be sad about that. It was okay for me to be angry. I really missed my workout. Endorphins a lot. I miss them so much.

And I realized that through that process, that was something that I had to grieve. I was never one that said, yes, I like to work out. I absolutely wanna do it. I would always tell people, I love the effects of working out. I love the fact that I can sleep better. I love the fact that I feel better physically and emotionally, I had to grieve loss of social experiences.

Things that I was invited to or things that I wanted to do where I had to tell people, you know, I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to commit to that or not, because I don’t know how I’m going to be legitimately feeling on that day. And I had to admit to people that I had limitations. That I wasn’t sure if my back was gonna be able to handle sitting for that long or standing for that long or whatever the situation entailed.

That was hard for me. I had always been so healthy and one of the things that God showed me through this process was how much pride I had put in my own physical health as something like I have control over it. I think that’s a very. Probably American mindset of like, well, you know, if you just eat the right foods and you exercise and you’re gonna be in good health, the reality is we don’t have control over that.

Guys. You could be a super healthy person and wake up tomorrow with cancer. We’re not in control of our health. A hundred percent, like we think we are. And that was something that I realized that it was out of my control, that was distressing for me. And I had to come to a place of humility and surrender to say, okay, this is where I’m at in my life.

This is a part of my process. I will tell you though, that during that two weeks where I was so depressed and so angry, I knew that I was in this grief and loss process. I knew that I hadn’t come to a place of acceptance. It was like, I couldn’t quite get there. I didn’t know like what I needed to get to that place of acceptance.

Maybe you’re at a point in your life where you’re dealing with anxiety and you hate it so much. Or you’re dealing with O C D and it’s like, you’re constantly trying to fight it because you hate it so much. And maybe. You need to get to that point of acceptance that for whatever reason, this is my season right now of suffering.

It may feel like it’s been a very long season and I hear you on that, but we can’t make positive changes and move forward. If we aren’t willing to first, except where we’re at really think about that. You can’t move forward. If you aren’t accepting of where your starting point is. You can’t run a marathon overnight.

When you’ve been sitting on the couch, you can’t expect your emotional self to be able to do certain things. If you haven’t exercised those emotional muscles, when you’re dealing with secondary suffering, you also have to guard your heart and mind in terms of what other people tell you because other people’s experience.

Are not your experience. If there’s anything that will teach you about the dumbest things people can say to you, it’s when you’re pregnant. I mean, it’s just absolutely unreal. Some of the stuff that people come out with, but I had different people tell me, oh, when I was pregnant, that was just the best that I felt in my whole.

Girl, granted, some of those people didn’t know that I was dealing with chronic pain when they said that to me, but I thought that is exactly what I don’t need to hear right now, because that’s certainly not my experience. Then you start to think to yourself, what’s wrong with me? If they had that experience, why couldn’t I have that experience?

And I’m sure this has happened to you. If you’ve dealt with anxiety for any period of time, you’ve had someone come up to you and say, oh yeah, I used to deal with anxiety. And there was this revival service at church and they prayed over me and I’m no longer anxious and I’m just walking in the Lord’s victory.

And if that’s someone’s story, like, that’s awesome. That’s great for them, but that’s not a lot of people’s story. Um, not the people that I’ve worked with anyway, that. Typically been their story. We have to be careful not to compare ourselves to other people. We have to say, this is a journey that the Lord has me on.

And he’s the one that gets to speak into that journey. And other godly people get to speak into that journey. But no one else can tell me exactly how my specific journey, whether it’s with pain, whether it’s with anxiety, whether it’s with pregnancy, whatever it is, nobody can tell me exactly how that’s gonna go for me, except for God.

He knows what that path is like. After I went through my two week crying period. I started to seek God for some answers. Okay. What does it actually mean to depend on you on a daily basis? What does it actually mean that your power is made perfect in weakness? Of course, these are things that I’ve heard.

My whole life, but I didn’t know how they applied to my specific situation. I’m not gonna say that that God showed up and spoke to me audibly or anything of that through that time, other than God just gave me peace to do the next thing. My planning self who loves to plan and set goals and knows what she’s doing next week and next month really had to reign back in and be put on.

And say, I’m gonna do what I can do today. I was in a bit of a survival mode. I had to be okay with that. Going back to that acceptance piece, I had to be able to accept, you know what, right now I’m just in a survival mode and I’m just looking at things day by day. Sometimes not even day by day, sometimes just morning, afternoon, evening.

What is reasonable? For me to accomplish right now, a lot of things fell by the wayside. During that time, I wasn’t super happy that they were falling by the wayside, but I also knew that I was doing the absolute best that I could do. There were a lot of dinners that didn’t get cooked. There were a lot of grocery shopping trips that didn’t get done, maybe laundry progress notes for therapy.

There were a lot of things that had to be done later. I came to a place of acceptance that I’m doing the best that I can do in this moment. And that’s all I can do moving forward. It’s super important for us to understand what kind of season that we’re in, because oftentimes we are longing for a different season.

We’re longing for someone else’s season. We’re longing for a season that we used to have in the past, instead of really examining God, speaking to him in prayer and examining ourselves to say, Okay. What season is it that you have for me right now, at this point in time, that applies to so many different areas of our life.

I knew that a lot of my secondary suffering had to do with catastrophizing futuristic thinking where everything’s horrible, terrible, awful. I’m never gonna be able to get outta this pain. You know, how in the world am I going to give birth? If I can’t even get around. All kinds of thoughts that were happening to me after that two week period of crying, I don’t know what the shift was for me.

I know I was able to talk with my doctor who recommended that I get on an antidepressant genuinely. I was depressed. Maybe that was my wake up call that I wanted to shift and change things and look at them differently. I didn’t want to get on an antidepressant at that point. Not because I don’t believe in antidepressants, you know, we’ve, we’ve certainly talked about reducing shame surrounding medication on the show.

I’ve, I’ve been on an antidepressant in the path. That’s not a problem. But what I realized was that my depression was secondary. To my suffering with pain. And if I could work towards reducing some of my suffering surrounding pain, I wouldn’t be depressed and I would be able to move forward. I was able to talk with my doctor about why in the world did this happen, or how did I end up here?

Because I think I was taking responsibility for somehow being in this position. Like I talked about before, just kind of that feeling like I should be in control of my own health. What my doctor told me basically was that we don’t know how people are gonna react or how their bodies are gonna react when they get pregnant.

There’s lots of things that happen with hormones that I learned about that can affect your ligaments and your muscles, and really just throw things outta whack all over your body. Even though they’re trying to help certain areas of your body be prepared to give birth. That conversation I know was healing for me.

I know I also had some conversations with Steve and with our doula who I had recently hired at that point that were healing conversations for me to help me get back on track. All I can say is that God gave me some type of clarity of mind at some point, to be able to sit down, write down specifically some of these repetitive thoughts that had been coming up.

Some of the things that I had been thinking over and over and over, such as I regret getting pregnant was one of them that I wrote down. And God gave me these words to counteract these thoughts. Instead of saying I regret getting pregnant wish I had never gotten pregnant. And then I wouldn’t be dealing with this painful experience.

I wrote down that I’ve waited many years to have a family. I didn’t choose chronic pain or difficult pregnancy, but I choose my daughter and it’s not my fault that I’m in this pain and I don’t understand why it’s happening, but I know that it is happening. I had a thought about this pain will last the next 16 weeks until my daughter’s born.

It’s only going to get worse as I get bigger. And then I wrote down, but God knows how the next 16 weeks are going to go. It could get better. It could get worse. I can only deal with today’s pain today. If there’s pain tomorrow, I will not be able to deal with it until tomorrow. That for me was probably the biggest revelation and goes back to that place of mindfulness, right?

Like I can’t deal with tomorrow’s anxiety. I can only deal with today’s anxiety that I feel right now here in the moment. You cannot predict how O C D is going to go for you in one year. In two years, you can only say, okay, what can I do about these obsessive thoughts today? What can I do about the compulsions that I really wanna engage in today?

As you’re more mindful, you notice that some days are better than others. That was my experience. I did go through several weeks of physical therapy. My process, I thought was going to be much more linear than it actually was. I thought, okay. I’m gonna go to therapy, I’m gonna do these exercises. I’m gonna practice like I’m supposed to, and then it’s gonna be kind of this straight diagonal line upward.

Why I had this idea. I have no idea because I work with people all the time on emotional pain and I. Tell them constantly. That’s not how it works. You know, you have some ups, you have some downs, you start to feel a little bit better, and then you have a setback or you have a major trigger that happens.

And that doesn’t mean that you’re not making progress. It just means that it’s not that neat diagonal line. So kind of comically looking back on it. I’m like, why did I think that my pain was going to be any different, but I really did. And that was interesting because, you know, no one had really communicated with me what this process was going to be like in terms of physical therapy and, and working through this pain.

And this discomfort, I did have some pretty significant setbacks of experiencing pretty intense, pure forms, muscle pain, and spasms. If you don’t know what your pure form muscle does, it basically turns your leg from straight to out and it’s in your butt. Let me tell you when that muscle is in pain. You know it because I could not even roll over in the bed without that acting up and aggravating, that was very disheartening to me to have my back start to feel a little bit better.

And then this muscle completely go out of whack. I had one side that I was able to get better and then, you know, not too long after the other side majorly acted up and was got me down kind of in the bed for a little while. Even through that experience, I was able to learn if I sit too long, that’s not so good for me.

If I stand too long, that’s not so good for me. If I alternate heat. Nice. That feels a little bit better. I just had to try out a lot of different things. I really relate that over to anxiety as well as you start to kind of notice. What your experiences, what your triggers are, what kind of things have, have been helpful to you?

What kind of things haven’t been helpful to you? Then you can start to adjust how you approach the anxiety. One of the things that they have you do in the book, you’re not your pain is kind of go through some different activities and look at, you know, did your, did your pain increase with these activities?

Did it decrease? Did it stay about the same. And as you’re really kind of like just tuning into that whole process, then you’re able to have realistic expectations for yourself. A lot of times what we do is as we start to get better, then we put too much on our plate. And then we have a setback because we expected too much out of ourselves.

This can be a yoyo cycle, like for anxiety where maybe you engage and then you withdraw. And then you engage and you withdraw because you engaged a little bit too much, for example, or you tried to do too much. Besides mindfulness. Another thing that can be helpful for secondary suffering is gratitude. I had to get to a place where I was thankful for the things that I could do or be thankful for the days that I could do them because there were some days that I couldn’t do them.

And as I was able to develop more gratitude that allowed some of that pain to lessen, there is this interaction we have to understand between our mind and our bodies. There’s a two-way flow to it. Right? So our body is listening to what our mind is telling it. And then our body’s experience is kind of.

Traveling back up to the mind and informing it, you know? So there’s this two way street that’s happening all the time that we’re inter interacting with. And if we don’t take care of both of those components, then we’re going to be missing something. I’m really thankful that. I got to share this part of my story with you today, because it makes me feel like I didn’t go through all that in vain.

And maybe when somebody else has a thought that is, is really dark or out there, they’ll go back. And remember this episode, you know, maybe you feel less alone today in your experiences. I think if there is something that I could go back and encourage my earlier pregnant self with, it would be to go ahead and embrace physical therapy.

I had a really hard time with this for some reason, which is ironic because I’m always telling people that it’s okay to get help. But for some reason, in this experience, I was super ashamed of going to physical therapy. Somehow, I was supposed to be able to figure this out myself because I had been doing fitness and stretching and yoga and different things for years.

And I also didn’t fully understand the concept of physical therapy. Nobody took the time to. Break it down for me and explain these people are specifically skilled to be able to diagnose where exactly your pain is coming from. And in my case, it was being referred from a different area, which is why it didn’t make sense.

They can help you with specific exercises to target those specific areas. I think my concept of physical therapy prior to pregnancy was. Well, you know, if you have surgery, you get physical therapy, or if you had an injury, you get physical therapy. But I thought who gets physical therapy for being pregnant?

Apparently it’s a thing. And a lot of people do because there’s so many things that happen with your muscles and all of that and ligaments and different things, stretching out. If I could go back and tell my earlier self something, it would be it’s okay to get this help. And it doesn’t mean that you’re doing something wrong.

It just means that you need the knowledge, skills, and abilities that these people have in order to get yourself to a better place. I think in a similar way, some people don’t understand exactly what mental health therapy is all about. They have these pictures from TV, like, oh, you’re gonna lay down a couch and someone’s just gonna ask you about how you feel.

There’s a lot more to it than that. If you’ve been listening to our show, you know that, but we have these misperceptions right. About what getting help is like, and that keeps us from actually getting the help or we think is that really gonna help me? Or can I do this on my. I want to let you all know if you didn’t know that we have an email list where I’ve been really striving to send out emails every week.

This has also been a one step forward, two step back I’ll I’ll do it for a few weeks and then fall off the BWA and do it for a few more weeks, but I’m really striving to be consistent in putting things out there that are helpful and beneficial for you guys. If you want to join our email list, you can do that by going to hope for anxiety and ocd.com.

There’s a way on the homepage for you to be able to subscribe. And as a gift to you, you also get to listen to my color breathing, exercise that some of my clients have really enjoyed over the. I have some great interview episodes that I’ve been saving up for you guys on different types of therapy.

We’re gonna talk with someone about somatic experiencing therapy and about acceptance and commitment therapy. So I’m super excited to share those interviews with you guys pretty soon. So stay tuned. Hope for anxiety and OCD is a production of by the well counseling. Our show is hosted by me, Carrie Bach, licensed professional counselor in Tennessee opinions given by our guests are their own and do not necessarily reflect the use of myself or by the well counseling.

Our original music is by Brandon Mangram until next time may you be comforted by God’s great love for you.

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