“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
A few nights ago, I woke in a panic and sat in the dark, gasping air and trying to remind myself which of my thoughts were real and which were just monsters under the bed threatening me with their imaginary wrath. See, I'm having my tonsils removed tomorrow, and I have a deep and irrational fear of "going under the knife."
When I was in labor with my oldest son, my doctor repeatedly warned me that we were heading for a c-section, but I was adamant that there had to be some way to get that kid out that did not involve me being dissected. Turns out my doctor knows what she's talking about it, and a few hours later I was being rushed to the OR and sliced open. I remember begging my husband to keep tapping me on the forehead, the way I had once seen a vet do to our cat during a blood draw, to keep me from focusing on the fact that someone was elbow deep in my own bloody innards just on the other side of that little half curtain they had draped across my chest.
And I had a full blown panic attack when I was being prepped for my second c-section, at the birth of my youngest son, as the anesthesiologist dug his long needle around in my back looking for his target while I was bent awkwardly over my hugely pregnant belly, sucking at the air like I was being drowned.
So, a few nights ago, the bravado with which I had scheduled this tonsillectomy dissolved, and I woke in the middle of the night gasping at my own fragility, terror-stricken that after all I am only just a flimsy bag of flesh too easily punctured, too easily split open and drained dry. I woke feeling my fist-sized heart echo its rhythm off my the inside of my ribs like the caged bird that it is, beating its frantic call, rattling around in jumbled rebellion against its own planned obsolescence. It's in those deep black moments of late night terror that reason has no foothold and fears loom like the endless shadows where the darkness overlaps itself and seems to make sinister shapes everywhere I turn my eyes.
I sat awake for many long moments gripped by the fear of pain, by the visceral, gruesome image of how yielding this body is to a tiny sharpened edge of steel.
And then, a quiet spread over me and I half remembered a quote I once read or heard about how pain alone is bearable but it is the fear of pain that causes us to suffer. I woke the next morning with an uncharacteristic sense of calm, and later that day I tried to find the quote I had remembered in the night. I never could find that quote, but I found the one above from Paulo Coelho and then a fried reminded me that pain is not the enemy, that pain is a byproduct of healing.
Tonight I am telling my heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. I'm telling my heart that pain is not the enemy anyway, that when it comes it will be because I am healing. And I'm telling my heart to quiet its fitful pattering, this rattling against its own cage because we're better off not suffering from the fear of what we can't avoid in the end.
Soon I will be off to bed, once this heart of mine pays attention and quiets down a bit, and tomorrow will be what it will be. We can't taste tomorrow's breakfast tonight, so it's best to not strap on tomorrow's burdens yet either. I'll keep telling my heart about all this tonight, and chances are, many nights to come when I forget and start trying on the next day's troubles and getting all mired in that fear of suffering that comes so easy to me. For tonight, I tell my heart that sweet reminder; I say have peace and be at rest.