Chronic pain changes everything. So does chronic love

After a recent service, members of the congregation had a long conversation about chronic pain, sharing resources, techniques and encouragement. In response, I invited people to reflect on the intersection of faith and pain in their lives. Here is Ollie’s story. Thanks, Ollie!

I only had a short time of suffering chronic pain. A few years ago, when I went part time at work and became primary carer part time, I would get these episodes where my ankle would become extremely painful for a few hours at a time. At the start it would just go away after a while or with mild medication.

I had broken my ankle as a nine-year-old but hadn’t had ankle issues generally. As this thing developed, we were investigating all kinds of things to explain and treat it and the pain was getting worse. I can’t remember the timeline exactly but it came to the point where I was getting scans and possible surgery on a degraded ankle, I had a diagnosis of a psychosomatic pain disorder called CRPS and was having therapy for that, and I was getting counselling focused on my anxiety around the attacks and why they might be happening.

I think I didn’t have great recognition and communication of my emotions and needs, and a lot was going on. The chronic pain was horrible and becoming unbearable. The episodes were becoming more frequent and having a bigger effect on our whole family and relationships. Like a black hole, this pain was warping all my experiences and sucking in me, my specialists, my family and our friends to deal with this unnerving unknown. I hated having to explain it and give my third hand understanding of this syndrome to kind and interested people who asked, ‘How’s your ankle?’, or even just, ‘How are you going?’ I couldn’t even explain it to myself.

Chronic pain manipulated my sense of time, perspective, happiness, true pain, memory, everything. I am so grateful it didn’t last very long, just isolated episodes over 12-18 months at most.

Through a combination of all the things – surgery, CRPS therapy, counselling and a whole lot of love – I hardly remember the ankle now. I think Lucy remembers it a lot more, and a fair few of our friends. I think I remember the episodes but she remembers the time period. Now Lucy’s experiencing chronic pain in her back and hip and I can see the similar warping of a person and our world going on now. There’s been horribly low moments.

I’m not even sure how I explain my ankle now, but I think it probably was a combination of anxiety about role changes with parenthood, and a bit of ankle degradation that was there too. It wasn’t really conscious!

When Alison reached out in this conversation, she mentioned the ankle, and I almost do need to be reminded of it; it’s not part of my daily life any more. How could it be that having been so close to the black hole I am just in ‘normal’ space again? Well, I think those therapies and relationships are all part of it, but I also got a deeper sense of being exposed to ‘chronic love’. I would probably even say that a lot of the specialised treatment was an extension of that love. Every day I have a sense of being loved. I nearly said ‘unshakeable’ sense, but then I did remember being significantly shaken in the worst of the pain.

That sense of Chronic Love, when I acknowledge it, helps me to remember the reality of a love that warps all those senses of ‘time, perspective, happiness, true pain, memory, [and] everything’ that pain did. Chronic Love warps those senses into a place of fullness and wholeness. Chronic Love connects, ministers and waits.

God has loved this world over deep time and warped it accordingly. Jesus, on countless occasions, warped small realities for the sake of fullness and wholeness. Lucy warps my daily existence towards love and connection. My mum and dad’s and other family member’s daily prayers remind me of my whole self, connecting the nine-year-old with a happy smile, the nine-year-old with the broken ankle, the new dad with CRPS, to the full Ollie. The kids are a bit too complicated to explain in words, but yeah, we chronically love each other! This community says that we can have all those things with two or three gathered. That’s an idea of community and human relationship that can only have sprung out of some deep hope and been birthed by Chronic Love.

I have also seen Chronic Love be a part of Lucy’s recovery too.  She is getting better.

I hope that this formulation of Chronic Love doesn’t come off as glib. I know that I forget the worst of things and I move on. I find it hard to connect with some things I’ve moved on from a bit, but I hope this reflection gives a bit of hope and attests to a truth for you, too. I’d love to hear how others have connected with this idea of Chronic Love,  with or without chronic pain.

Shalom,
Ollie

Reflect: How has chronic love been shown to you? Pray about it, then take some time to simply rest in God’s love.

Emailed to Sanctuary 28 July 2021 © Sanctuary, 2021. Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash.

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