I had a therapy session with Linda today. Linda is my pain shrink, my Thursday morning tether to sanity. I highly recommend finding a therapist who is versed in pain, be it grief counseling, trauma, whatever. If he or she is familiar with it, then that person can help you move through a quagmire of personal tragedy and loss, on whatever scale it might be.
Anyway. This morning Linda said something curious: “I want to make sure you’re not identifying as your pain.”
I raised an eyebrow. “But how does that jive with someone who advocates for pain awareness because she doesn’t want others facing the same problems?”
She shook her head. Linda is an artsy sort of woman, always dressed with bohemian flair. I want to be her in twenty years. “Totally different story. Let me try this a different way: Who are you?”
I was flopped on her floor at this point. I spend most sessions first drinking coffee and then stretching out on the rug with my feet up on the chair. “I’m Jen. I’m an attorney and a writer and an editor. I have pain.” Even as I said it, I knew it wasn’t right.
“Those are what you do. It’s what you experience. Who are you?”
Of course, that took me a few moments. I had to search hard for adjectives, but I finally came up with: dedicated. Smart. Funny. Blunt. Snarky. Sarcastic. Realistic. Stubborn. Loyal. Determined.
Those qualities let me do what I do. I am not my job. I am not my hobbies. I am not my pain. This theory didn’t sink in for several more hours; it actually just registered ten minutes ago, when I was (once again) on the floor of my office, taking a meditation break. Buddhify’s soft British voice said the same thing in a profound way: “What matters is that I know you, and by knowing you, I am not you.”
Let’s bold that, shall we?
What matters is that I know you, and by knowing you, I am not you.
The meditation was all about personifying the emotions scattered throughout your head. Self-doubt? “Hello, Ms. Self-Doubt. I’ve met you before. We’re old friends. Hi there, Mrs. Fear. How are you today?”
Anger? Blame? Judgment? Personify them all. My biggest demon, of course, is Mister Pain. He’s always been Mister Pain. When I was seventeen I wrote a poem about him that still echoes through my thoughts every now and again. The “Mister” has always been spelled out; he’s always been male.
But that’s the thing — once Mister Pain is Mister Pain, he’s not part of me. He’s someone else. He’s something I can look at and examine. He becomes other.
The meditation also referenced Doctor Who, which resonated with me because I love Doctor Who. Even though I’ve been too sad about Matt Smith leaving to watch Peter Capaldi’s antics, I adore that show with all my heart (in fact, I double-heart the Doctor). During the Buddhify meditation, the speaker referenced the concept of regeneration. I spent the next several seconds thinking “Regeneration Meditation” over and over.
Time for some background! Doctor Who, for those of you who don’t know, is a massively popular British television show about an alien who travels through space and time in a TARDIS, his ship, which stands for Time And Relative Dimension In Space. It’s shaped like a blue police box and is much bigger on the inside because, science. He’s more than 900 years old; he generally has a companion of the young, female variety; and he travels throughout the galaxy in order to help people and solve problems, though he somehow usually ends up in Cardiff. Boom. Fifty years’ worth of plot, explained!
When the First Doctor, played by William Hartnell, started to fall ill during filming in the 1960s, the producers came up with a brilliant way to keep the show going without him: have the Doctor “regenerate” into a new version of himself, played by an entirely different actor. We are now on the Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi, who basically sneezed himself into existence.
I love the concept of regeneration. You get too damaged, you get too old, and BLAMMO! You just explode into a new being. As I was meditating earlier today and locked onto that phrase, I just kept thinking, What would happen if I could do the same?
What if I could shed this skin and become someone entirely new?
That’s the sad thing about being the Doctor, though. While he retains all of his thoughts and memories, he becomes an entirely different person with new tastes, new attitudes, and new perspectives. He can run across his own timeline and interact with several versions of himself, because even though they are all the Doctor, they are essentially different people. He can’t keep carrying all of himself forward, so he leaves some parts behind.
Even if I could regenerate, I wouldn’t be the same person. And really, despite everything I deal with, I quite like the person I am now.
Because those experiences — the pain and everything that comes with it — are what happen to me. They are outside of me. They aren’t what makes me, me.