Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Loss Part 3: Identity
Do you ever feel as though you are sitting on the sidelines of your own life? It's not unusual for people who experience pain and disability to feel as though they have somehow lost themselves. I remember not wanting to believe that I had changed, but I had. Many of my strengths had turned into weaknesses. Some of my abilities had become disabilities. I was in the middle of my life and didn't know where to go or what to do next. All I knew was that I didn't want to stop but had to. I loved teaching drama, but I had to let it go.
Quick wit, the ability to concentrate, and physical prowess can seem to evaporate if the pain comes to stay. Medications to help facial pain can cloud our concentration, obscure our ability to respond quickly, and cause physical issues such as balance and sluggishness. Career and volunteer activities may become a drain instead of a challenge.
If we have trigeminal neuralgia, neuropathic, or orofacial face pain, we may begin to experience social isolation. This can be spurred by the environmental barriers that are unique to people with face pain: breezes that cause electrocution-type pains and noise or vibration that causes the pain to strike. Isolation and loneliness can also be caused self-consciousness. Some individuals gain weight with face pain, especially because of some of the medications' side-effects. Others may be unable to brush their teeth or receive dental care on a regular basis.
Things that seemed so intrinsic - like a beautiful smile- now seem to escape us, things like a career or a desire to grow a family. The losses caused by pain can be distressing, but there is hope. Hold onto it. Don't let go.
Finding the best treatment takes a while because of the idiopathic nature of the pain. What works for one person doesn't work for another. Medications that seem to turn us into "zombies" also require a period of adjustment. Ten years ago, when I started taking an anti-seizure med, the trigeminal neuralgia pain left. I slept like crazy for three months. Then the feeling of sleepiness left, and the pain stayed away. (Can I tell everyone how disappointed I was when I developed an allergy to this medication?)Another thing that takes time is prayer. We normally don't get answers overnight. A period of waiting is almost always involved. Hold onto hope. Hold onto your faith. Continue to wait.
Waiting is one of the most difficult things we can do. Being in limbo places even more pressure on an individual who has experienced so much loss. It is important to remember this: we have changed but we have not lost ourselves. We have not become someone else.
The challenge we face is learning how to make the best of our lives after we have experienced losses associated with facial pain. There are many ways to do that. One way is to address career concerns. Every state in the U.S. has a vocational rehabilitation program that receives federal funds. It's there to provide education or training for people who have disabilities. People with face pain qualify. Because trigeminal and neuropathic facial pain are rare, you might want to prepare information for the rehabilitation counselor who will interview you. Make a list of things that cause you pain, such as talking, sitting in air conditioning, or being in a noisy environment. If you are having issues caused by medication, list those also. If you are employed and want to stay with your company, the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) can help you and your employer make arrangements to help you stay where you are. JAN is part of the US Department of Labor. They have a website and a toll-free number.
One important thing to focus on is what you can do, not what you cannot do. I've been in situations that were overwhelming. It's hard to recognize the need to make a change. Letting go doesn't mean losing. It can mean that we are going to find a new and better way.
Call me crazy, but I think the world would be a better place if everyone were to experience trigeminal neuralgia for just one day. We'd live on a more compassionate environment. We'd have more empathy for others. People with face pain have learned how precious life is. It's something we can teach others. Even in the midst of our pain, we can help make the world a better place.
I want to thank the Lord for answering so many of my prayers. When I lose one thing, He always gives me something better. It takes me a long time to recognize the blessing, but it is always there.
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