“Never give up”

“No matter what is going on
Never give up
Develop the heart…”

H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama (to read the rest of the poem, click here)

Earlier this week, someone found this blog by typing in the search terms “severe chronic pelvic pain=want to die.” I don’t know who this person was but I felt deep sorrow when I read those words. I thought about how many others there are out there who feel the same way but did not type in the search terms into Google. It made me determined to do something, even if that person never returns to read my blog. There are a lot of people suffering tremendously from medical conditions like pelvic pain and they can’t really talk about their pain and suffering much with others. I’ve been there. I know it is hard.

I’ve written about the severe depression that I went through in 2001, but I didn’t go into great depth about the details of my story.

As I wrote in the earlier entry, I had just survived a life-threatening episode of Crohn’s colitis and I was living with my family in Indiana. I was on disability and was in a lot of physical pain and discomfort.

The doctors in the hospital had never seen a case like mine before. At first, I was a “mystery of science” patient but careful “Dr. House”-like sleuthing showed that it was inflammatory bowel disease in combination with a virus and a bacteria from antibiotics (c. difficile) that had nearly pulverized my intestines. While I was in the hospital, the doctors said that they had only read of similar cases in the medical literature and that in all those cases the patients were immuno-suppressed. When was the last time that I had had an HIV test, they wanted to know. Would I be willing to have another HIV test?

The last HIV test I had before that hospitalization was in 1995 and it was negative. But in the hospital I was on high doses of corticosteroids — which exacerbated every emotion I had — and I knew my emotional limits. I told the docs that I thought HIV was unlikely and that I would need to wait till I was on a lower dose of corticosteroids to take the test. I simply could not handle the stress. I needed sleeping pills to get to sleep as it was.

I should have taken that test earlier (it took me six months to take the HIV test, and it was negative). What the doctors said to me in the hospital freaked me out. After they told me that it was only immuno-suppressed individuals that had gotten similar kinds of illness, I ruminated about taking the HIV test and not taking the HIV test for months. This rumination contributed to my depression.

In the midst of all this, while I was living in Indiana with my family, I caught a bad chest cold. Sleep was impossible because I was coughing through the night. My doctor had prescribed some medicine to help with my chest cough but I was scared to take it. I asked the pharmacist if there were any reported interactions between the cough suppressant (it was a lot more powerful than Robitussin!) and my sleeping pills. No, he said. So one night I took the cough suppressant at 2am, a couple of hours after taking a sleeping pill.

I woke up in the late morning feeling like I had been hit by a Mack truck. My mind was extremely foggy and I didn’t feel at all like myself. It was an unbearable feeling. I looked at the bottle of my sleeping pills on the nightstand and a thought swam through the fog of my mind: “I could take all of those pills right now and not suffer like this.” I looked at the bottle of pills and then looked across the room to a small altar that I had set up. On the altar was a certificate that I had received in December of 2000 while I was on a mindfulness retreat with the monks and nuns in Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition. I had taken vows to follow the five mindfulness trainings and the “three jewels.”

Words from the first mindfulness training floated in my mind:

I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life.

Suddenly, a flash of clarity surfaced in my consciousness. Killing myself would bring about great suffering to those closest to me. A firm resolve came over me in the moments that followed. I was determined to follow the path of understanding and love (one of the “three jewels”) no matter what happened. I did not know why I had to go through the suffering. I did not know what I would do with my life, especially as I was on disability. The only thing clear to me was that I had to keep coming back to understanding, compassion, and love, even when I didn’t want to.

I pushed the covers to one side and pushed my legs over the side of the bed. Despite my weariness and illness I managed to walk out of the room, hobble down the steps, and just about stumble into the kitchen, where my littlest sister (then 18 months old) greeted me with an incredibly amazing and life-affirming smile.

I continued to take those sleeping pills for a few more months, but just one pill per night.

I went through six more hospitalizations after that first hospitalization in 2001 for a battered intestine, including major surgery. The Crohn’s colitis eventually went into remission in 2005, but I developed other pain conditions, including sciatica pain and pelvic pain related to chronic urinary tract infections. There were times in which the pain was unbearable and I didn’t know how I was going to get through it. Those times always passed, even when they felt so solid and fixed, they passed.

Everything is temporary, even our suffering.

When I didn’t know what to do and felt like I was at the bottom of a deep well, I tried to remember that I had to find a way to keep going, to keep walking on that path of understanding and love, even when that path seemed a million miles away.

“Never give up” says the Dalai Lama.

I don’t think he’s talking about defeat versus victory.

Never give up on your heart. It has way more strength and resolve than you think.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Andy
    Jun 15, 2011 @ 09:00:38

    Beautiful, Erica. I really hope that person comes back and reads your words.


  2. Lupus
    Sep 16, 2011 @ 02:12:56

    I’m not that person but I am like him/her.

    Thank you.


  3. Carl Bullen
    Jun 04, 2013 @ 20:56:01

    Your last sentence in this brought tears to my eyes. A beautiful piece!


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