There was a point when I felt that no one in the medical system seemed to understand that my intense fears of doctors and pain had become ingrained within me. There was no one to help me through these fears. My emotions had accumulated so many dimensions and layers that they developed an eerie power of their own, making it harder and harder for me to find my own sense of inner power. Was I descending into a nightmare of insanity? Pain is not simply a physical sensation. Over a time period, the unending, debilitating physical pain and traumatic memories slowly metamorphosized into uncontrollable anxiety that terrorized and disabled my mind, body, and spirit. I was truly living in hell. I had to make a choice: to continue creating this hell in which I was living or to find a way out.
I was aware that the emotions I experienced when in the hospital (from surgeries) were still forcibly with me and influenced how I experienced and reacted to present and future situations. These old emotions had never left my psyche after I left the hospital. During my hospital stays, I subconsciously feared that fully experiencing my emotions meant feeling more physical pain. I had automatically repressed my emotions for protection and mere survival. But this created layers of emotions built one upon another.
To better understand my emotions, I needed to acknowledge them. I diligently began acknowledging and truly sensing, feeling, and experiencing all the emotions that surfaced from living in non-stop, severe pain. I appointed several times each week when I knew I would be alone and forced myself to become aware of and feel my emotions and cry them out. The amount of courage and emotional strength this took convinced me that there was still inner strength within me; I had not lost it.
But was acknowledging and feeling my emotions from the past sufficient? Perhaps I needed to process them. But how? And what does “to process” even mean? Perhaps it means to understand their evolution, and how my present emotions were influenced by past emotions. For each emotion I felt, I journaled pages upon pages, asking myself:
- How, when, and why was a particular emotion constructed?
- How had that emotion progressed and influenced my present emotional state?
- How had it influenced all aspects of my Self, including my behaviors and outlook on my life?
Each day I settled myself with pen in hand and wrote, feverously trying to understand the relationships between pain, trauma, emotions, and my sense of self. The more I understood my fears, the less I would fear them. I began analyzing the contents and nature of my dreams and I began self-dialoguing, loading my journal with daily question-and-answer sessions with myself. I also began to evaluate how I interacted with medical professionals and friends, and how I handled specific situations:
- What was I thinking before, during, after the event? (i.e. doctor visit, walking and feeling pain increase)
- What was the main emotion before, during, after the event? Why?
- What did I fear would happen? Why? Was my fear conditioned from past experiences?
- What was my behavioral response towards my thoughts and emotions before, during, after the event?
- Did I act or react? How did my reaction(s) and fear affect the pain?
- What really happened during this event?
- How was this different from what I had expected?
- What can I do next time before, during, and after the event to help me more effectively deal with the event?
The above questions helped me to reorganize my thoughts, cognitively piecing things together again, as I began understanding my fears, and how and why they developed. The more I understood my fears, the less I was afraid of them. This led to increasing awareness and control over my thoughts, emotions, and behavioral reactions.
Increased self-awareness furnished increased sense of control and safety of being in my body. I no longer repressed and fled from my emotions. I began allowing them to come forth. And I slowly began having reasonable, not fearfully outlandish expectations of what would happen when I met with a doctor or experienced heightened pain.