The other day my partner fell off his bicycle and dislocated his shoulder. The pain transformed him into someone else. When I arrived at the hospital, I thought it might have been the morphine that had sucked his life away, but the moment the doctor finally popped the humerus back into its joint, his face flickered with joy and I could see his familiar self regain the territory behind his eyes. His individuality was immediately restored. I understood then how intense pain can steal someone’s soul. I understood how chronic pain sufferers could sometimes rather die than continue living without their full identities. The loneliness is overwhelming when your own mind can’t be there for you.
And emotional pain can feel the same when, even though you are told it will end, you are not convinced. Grieving, depression, extreme shame can consume much of the energy normally used to hold a personality together. When part of your brain’s power is removed, with no guarantee that it will ever return, it can be tempting to spiral downwards, losing more and more of your selfhood at every rotation.
This is why I think it is so important to force into your head, preferably when you are not hurting, the mantra that all things must pass. Although these words were used by the bible and George Harrison in slightly different ways, they can also mean that life is always made up of highs and lows and your suffering will not last forever. This belief should be implanted so firmly that no amount of agony can make you forget it. In the case of chronic physical pain, of course, it might not seem so straightforward, but there are still better days, pain-management techniques, drug therapies and the hope of future medical breakthroughs. In the case of emotional or mental distress, impermanence is a simple reality. Time will pass, circumstances will change, moods will swing and hearts and minds will heal, and keeping this knowledge at the top of your consciousness in moments when other information becomes submerged in a flood of pain, might keep you from drowning.