Getting through the “why me?” days

I think we all experience moments of wondering why we have to deal with a particular health challenge — what is the purpose of it? We might see ourselves as “abnormal” and wish to just be more “normal.” We might look with envy on others who seem to have it “so easy” and wish that we could have some of that ease. When I did my dissertation research, “Why me?” was a commonly reported thought among women with chronic pelvic pain. Some even wondered why God had given them such debilitating pain and illness.

Sometimes we just reach a threshold of not wanting to deal with chronic illness or chronic pain anymore. All of our excellent coping strategies fall by the wayside because we’re just too tired to apply them. We feel mentally defeated in those moments. And we can’t seem to just talk ourselves out of them. The sense of defeat and demoralization is too strong.

When we are absorbed in the “why me?” of coping with a health challenge, it just seems awful. Suffering isn’t rational! The “why me” comes from the feeling of being sucked into a “me bubble” of despair.

So how do we get through the days in which despair seems overwhelming? Here is what I do:

Let myself feel what I’m feeling
I don’t judge myself for the feelings that I’m having. I give myself the time and space to cry or curse or do whatever feels like a healthy expression of the feeling. I try to stay with my feelings, caring for them, meditating with them, dancing with them, and sometimes writing about them. I try to locate them in my body — where do I most feel the strong emotions? What does the emotion feel like physically? Is it a sinking feeling in my heart? Can I feel the tears welled up in my eyes? Do I feel lethargic or exhausted? Could I name the feelings? Sometimes I turn on some music or play my piano to try to find sounds that resonate with what I am feeling emotionally.

Reach out for support
I write to friends or talk to them. I tell people what I am going through. I don’t try to pretend that I feel something different than I do. That takes way more energy than just being true to my feelings. I ask for empathy and understanding. Sometimes I reach out to people who are in similar situations, because I think they can relate to my experience.

When you suffer a lot, you may feel you don’t have enough strength to be on your own. When a friend comes and holds your hand, you feel as if you can bear your pain and continue. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Comfort myself
I give myself permission to spoil myself, just a little. I eat little bits of dark chocolate, put on my pajamas and blast some of my favorite music. One Zen teacher who lived with chronic pain for many years, Darlene Cohen, wrote that when we choose to comfort ourselves when we feel overwhelmed by living with chronic pain, we create some spaciousness in our consciousness. It’s like giving our minds a little break, we just have to be careful that we don’t go overboard and seek comfort constantly as an escape from what we are feeling.

Identify my storyline
Which thought triggers the strongest emotions in me? The thoughts that are my biggest triggers are the ones in which I say to myself that Crohn’s colitis stole something from me, like my youth or some cherished ability. Oy vey. I am a victim in these thoughts. So I look at them and see what they are, just passing thoughts. My thoughts are not me.

The Buddha speaks about the “second arrow.” When an arrow strikes you, you feel pain. If a second arros comes and strikes you in the same spot, the pain will be ten times worse. The Buddha advised that when you have some pain in your body or your mind, breathe in and out and recognize the significance of that pain but don’t exaggerate its importance. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Through my meditation I try to let go of my storyline and come back to my breathing. The storyline comes up, again and again, and I go back to my breath, again and again. I try to stop ruminating about my storyline through my meditation. And I care for my feelings, embracing them with each breath. I practice loving-kindness meditation for myself.

Embrace the unknown
Sometimes the storyline keeps coming back, no matter how much I meditate. And then I ask myself if I am absolutely sure that something is the cause of my suffering. Here is an example:

I don’t know for sure that it was the colectomy surgery or the Crohn’s colitis that caused these fertility issues. Maybe it was something else? Maybe I’m just getting older and things get more complicated with age. Maybe I was genetically predisposed to have it. I can’t say with 100% certainty that the Crohn’s colitis/surgery is the cause.

When I’m really stuck on a storyline, I go through the four questions of Byron Katie’s “The Work.”

Contemplate what I really need
I re-focus my energy and reflect on what it is that I am really longing for. Maybe it is ease or physical well-being or freedom from stress. I look at the list of needs on the non-violent communication website and think about which needs really resonate with my heart.

Re-frame the situation
Re-framing means looking at the situation from a different angle. For example, if I am needing ease, I look at all of the ways that I actually do have ease in my life. I can walk, eat, sleep through the night, etc. I have two amazing eyes that help me to see many wonders in life. I have two good legs that bear the weight of my body, allowing me to walk and dance. There is a lot happening in my body that is quite wonderful.

Practice Tonglen meditation
With Tonglen, we breathe in the heaviness of the feeling and transform it on the spot. We breathe out a sense of fresh, cool energy. I practice Tonglen when the feelings linger because I know that it is easy for me to suppress them. Tonglen meditation gives me a way to relate directly to my feelings.

Reach outside of myself
I practice loving-kindness meditation and Tonglen for others. I do something to help someone else. I focus on work that has a positive impact on other people. In doing so, I pierce through my “me bubble” and connect with something larger than myself.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Anita
    Oct 04, 2013 @ 15:38:44

    Thank you for this. I was feeling exhausted today with my body and the pain and flares I’ve been experiencing. And so upset, feeling my youth and half my life is being stolen from me. When I read this I began to cry a little, and I’m reminding myself that though a few things may be off balance in my body, thousands of things are going right, and are keeping me alive and able to participate in life.


    • Erica
      Oct 05, 2013 @ 12:38:04

      Today is a new day, and I hope you are feeling some relief from the pain today. It is hard to appreciate the small wonders in life when one is in a lot of pain, I know! Kudos to you for being able to take a step back and appreciate the beings and things in life that sustain you. Thanks for reading and sharing about your experience. Take good care.


  2. Jordan Patton
    Dec 10, 2013 @ 04:21:48

    I am a 19 year old dealing with Crohn’s disease and have already have 3 surgeries because of it. The “why me” daysare definitely the hardest but I found a lot of relief in reading this. Thank you for that. I haven’t felt that way in quite a long time.


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