When it’s on the level of a headache, most of us can manage. Just take a painkiller, rest for a bit, and we’re back to life as usual.
But what if it gets worse? What if the pain is there every day – and even every moment of every day? What if painkillers don’t help?
At that point, we can’t push through the pain. We have two options: to let the pain push us under OR to let the pain push us higher.
Here are the stories of two women who suffered from chronic, potentially debilitating pain. Instead of giving up, they used the pain to fuel their creativity and mission. They inspired us! We hope they inspire you as well.
Overcoming Pain Through Art
Frida Kahlo was an early 20th century Mexican artist. She didn’t intend to be an artist; as a young woman, she was studying medicine when she was in a serious bus accident that broke her spine in several places. Many of Frida’s injuries healed, but she was left with chronic pain, significant reproductive issues and complications that unfolded over the rest of her life.
When she was immobilized for three months following her accident, she began to paint – and she never stopped. Her paintings became a way for her to face her struggles and share them with the world. Many are self-portraits, expressing her experiences of surgeries, back braces, multiple miscarriages, amputation and depression.
Frida explained, “I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.” Frida’s reality was far from a simple one; it was a reality filled with physical and emotional pain. Yet Frida neither ran from it nor succumbed to it.
Instead, she painted it.
Overcoming Pain Through Song
Sinead O’Connor is an Irish musician, born in the 1960’s and actively producing music today. From early childhood, Sinead had to cope with the pain of physical and emotional child abuse. In an open letter to The Irish Times in 1993 (eight years after her mother’s death in a car accident), Sinead wrote, “If only I can fight off the voices of my parents / and gather a sense of self-esteem / Then I’ll be able to REALLY sing …”
It’s hard to know what Sinead meant by “REALLY sing,” because Sinead was already creating music with depth and power – much of it fueled by her painful experiences. Her song “Fire on Babylon” is about the effects of the abuse. In recent years, she has become an advocate for abused children, using her own painful memories to positively change the lives of others.
Sinead’s adult life has not been spared its physical and emotional pain. She suffers from bipolar disorder, and in 2003 officially retired from the music world in the public eye due to fibromyalgia, which caused her chronic pain and fatigue.
Her retirement, however, was not a submission to the pain. Instead, it was yet another expression of her growing from and because of her pain.
In an interview with HotPress, an Irish music magazine, Sinead said, “Fibromyalgia is not curable. But it’s manageable… It is made worse, obviously, by stress… You have to re-assess what you do and maybe find another less stressful job, or re-habilitate your same job! Which is kind of what I am trying to do, given that I love singing and that it’s calming. So I want to do that, but to stay out of the parts of it that cause me undue stress.”
Sinead used the pain of her experiences to take a deeper look at what she was doing, find what really mattered to her and make that the focus of her life. Since her return to music, she has created songs with spiritual and religious themes, and often performs in support of non-profits.
Sinead takes her pain, from childhood to today, and uses it to drive meaning in her own and others’ lives.
Pain is a powerful force, and it naturally pushes its victims down.
But we have a choice.
We can choose to ride the wave of the pain and try to push ourselves higher, to accomplish great things for ourselves and our communities.
Don’t give up. We can decide to use pain as a catalyst – as a force to push us up to levels we would never have achieved otherwise.