The Gift of the Dark Angel: Coping with Pain

My barn having burned to the ground,
I can now see the moon.
– Mizuta Masahide, 1688

*

Several years ago, I suffered through a painful 9 month course of chemotherapy.  The pain was so severe, and so relentless, that I didn’t know how I would get through it, and I seriously thought about quitting the treatment.

There were three things that helped me cope with the pain and I’d like to share them with you, because I know that some of you are going through very very hard times.

The first support was that my doctor gave me the choice of whether to continue the treatment or not.  He didn’t power struggle with me at all.  He was absolutely kind but there was no push.   So there was nothing for me to resist.  It was my choice.  His only advice in making my decision was to consider this:  “You never want to look back with regret.”

The second was a book that was given to me by a friend.  The book was The Gift of the Dark Angel by Ann Keiffer.  It’s an intimate portrait of one woman’s recovery from depression – and how she ultimately found blessings in her struggle.  The book made me look for meaning in my experience. It inspired me to try to look beyond the pain, to try to find my own dark angel’s gift.

The third support was given to me by a doctor-friend that had severe and chronic back pain.  He told me that anyone who lives with pain has to find their own way to cope, a strategy or tool that works for them.  No one can find that for you – No one can give it to you.  They can only tell you, and remind you, that it can be found.  They can wait compassionately beside you while you look for it.

He gave me a reprint of an article – I still have it – called What Good is Feeling Bad: The Evolutionary Benefits of Psychic Pain by Randolph M. Nesse.  The article talks about how pain is protective, like a messenger.  It gave me a kind of  respect and appreciation for pain, similar to the gift of the dark angel.  But where the Gift of the Dark Angel was warm and emotional, Nesse’s article was cognitive and analytical.  I needed them both.  Nesse inspired me to mentally distance myself from the physical pain, to learn to watch it from some other part of myself.

Ultimately, it was these three things: the freedom of choice, the decision to find the gift, and the cultivation of the “witness,” that helped me to cope with pain.

I’ll tell you another story from that time.  Perhaps someone close to you will read this post too, and understand something very special in it.

I was holding it together pretty well.  I’d gone through surgery.  And hemorrhaged more than a week after surgery – necessitating more surgery.  And I was still pretty calm overall, I think.  Until… “The Meltdown.”

My father had come down from New York to be a support and one night I heard only a portion of his side of a phone call, and I totally misinterpreted what was being said.  I started yelling and crying and ranting like a lunatic.  I saw real panic in my father’s eyes, but I couldn’t stop.  The dam had burst and the flood was loose.  I don’t think I was even making sense.  And Charles came towards me, and without speaking, he lifted me up like a child in his arms and carried me into the bathroom.  He set me down, while he ran a bath.  I was still yelling and crying.  He gently took off my clothes and set me down in the warm tub, and when the warmth seeped in and soothed me and calmed me, I was quiet.  All the while, he never said a word.  He didn’t have to.

Photo by Simon Carrasco on Flickr Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Comments

{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Brandon

    December 10, 2010, 12:15 pm

    Wow, that is a powerful story! Really jolted me into reality today. I will keep this in my heart, thank you for sharing!

    • Marty

      December 10, 2010, 1:31 pm

      Thank you for sharing…I can truly say that I relate completely to what was happening to you. I am going to read The Gift of the Dark Angel. Something for me to take on my journey to Australia. Many Blessings!! Much love!!

      • Susan Robinson

        December 10, 2010, 8:29 pm

        Thank you, Marty! I think you’ll find the book very gentle and encouraging. Have a wonderful trip! Tell us all about Australia!

    • Susan Robinson

      December 10, 2010, 8:34 pm

      Pain has a way of making it all Oh, so real! Thank you so much for bringing your heart to this work.

  • Kim Rau

    December 10, 2010, 2:58 pm

    Thank you for sharing this with us , I have sent it on to a dear freind who is suffering with back pain. You have the gift of writing. Thank you for sharing that gift with us. I get such a sense peace when I read your blog.

    • Susan Robinson

      December 10, 2010, 8:27 pm

      Thank you so much, Kim – for the encouragement to keep writing and also for sharing this post with your friend! I hope that it brings her hope! Sending you blessings!

  • Ann Keiffer

    August 27, 2011, 3:52 pm

    Susan, I am Ann Keiffer, author of Gift of the Dark Angel. My husband happened on your blog last night and immediately called my attention to it. I count it a great blessing that my experience as recounted in the book was meaningful and helpful to you. That means everything to me. I would like to know how you are now, in August, 2011. And may healing continue to come to you in any or all of its unexpected guises.

    I was especially touched to read about your experience with my book, because I am about to get the book back in print with a few updates and a new dimension. The original book will be there, along with 14 poems and their 14 coordinating black-and-white photos about the transforming possibility of depression (and all dark nights of the soul). The poems and photos constituted a traveling art exhibit my son and I created together. I’m excited about the new book project for its additional ways of communicating and reaching out.

    Many blessings,
    Ann

    • Susan Robinson

      August 29, 2011, 10:57 am

      Hi Ann!
      I’m thrilled that you saw this post and left a comment. Your book helped to keep me alive. I’m excited to hear you’ll be printing a revised edition. Your poems and images on http://www.annswordplay.wordpress.com are thoughtful and evocative – They capture my head and my heart at the same time. I’m so grateful that you share your creative self . Uniquely you, but it speaks to a yearning in all of us. Thank you also for asking about my health – The experiences I wrote about in this post happened in 1991. I had a second wake up call from cancer in 2006, and I’m happy to say that I think I’ve finally gotten the message that particular dark angel was delivering. Something has eased inside. I spend more time these days in feelings of passion and contentment than I do in fear or anger or sadness. And I have to say, I like this better!

  • Ann Keiffer

    August 27, 2011, 4:05 pm

    Susan! I forgot to tell you I have a blog going for my poetry. Please stop by some time and say hi.
    http://www.annswordplay.wordpress.com

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