Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Mindful Monday: My Life Project–Understanding the Pain

In December, I thought I feature a few other voices on Mindful Monday because 1) I don’t want you to get sick of me, and 2) I’m learning so much from other mental health bloggers these days. I want to share their wisdom with you. This is my Advent activity–a way in which I can share the truth in other people’s lives and celebrate the holiness of this season.

Therapy Cover.jpg
Today’s guest blogger is Judith D. Schwartz, a Vermont-based journalist and author. You can find out more about her on The following essay is excerpted from her terrific and very un-politically correct (which is why I loved it) book, “The Therapist’s New Clothes.”

* * *


Before medication my life’s project was to understand my pain. I was ill and in my illness made the mistake of treating my symptoms as metaphors. I tried to ascribe meaning to them. And I understand the impulse behind that quest. Pain that is part of a coherent story is tolerable. Pain without meaning is unbearable.

But this proved a dangerous exercise. The pain had no meaning beyond the brute fact of it.

Sure there is a story to each of our lives. But it’s not necessarily for our therapeutic perusal and re-perusal. For the psychotherapy patient is the ultimate unreliable narrator–a literary term to describe instances when the person relaying the story cannot wholly be trusted, as he is speaking through his or her limited perspective. A person’s story is not stable; it alters with the telling and with the audience. When in therapy I described my childhood, it was cloaked in a Gothic pall. When I look at old photographs, I see me and my brother giggling conspiratorially and pushing bubbles at each other in the bath, closer to a G-rated family comedy. As with most of us, the reality is probably some mixture of the two.


Can a therapist tease out memories of emotional states from current emotional states? In attempting to do so in therapy are we uncovering truth or making fiction? I don’t know. But one thing I do know: now that I am blessed with the capacity to do so I want to be in the story, not merely dissect it. I want a life that’s more than the sum of therapy hours.

Of course, I have low days. I get as disturbed as anyone about world events and worry about the mess my son’s generation stands to inherit. I get bored, frustrated, and extremely anxious about our bank account. It has taken time for Tony and me to find our way back to each other. Beyond that, I get colds and lots of stomachaches (an unpleasant effect of medication has been a pretty messed-up gastrointestinal tract.) And as the winters drag on (and on …), well, every Vermonter will recognize that mud season of the mind.


If a bad mood persists I am frightened to realize that my thoughts still run downhill. My medication gives me options, not direction. There are those who say antidepressants create of floor of mood that they never dip beneath. That is not the case with me. My emotional state is like a floating ball that comfortably hovers a bit higher than it used to.

I have learned to befriend my brain. I read its responses, trying to tune in to what it’s telling me (that perhaps I’m tired, over stimulated, need to check in with myself.) I made feeling good a priority so as to keep that floating ball aloft. If I start wallowing I’ve got to get myself out of it. In her book “A Life of One’s Own,” British psychoanalyst Marion Milner (writing as Joanna Field) observed her own thoughts and feelings over a period of time and wrote about what she learned about emotional life. In a chapter entitled, “The Coming and Going of Delight,” she described how, when pensive or bored, she could moderate her moods by small shifts in self-awareness. She called these perceptual modulations “internal gestures of the mind.” That’s about as good a description as I can find for what I do. I believe that I have a responsibility to feel okay. Only when I feel okay can I access the energy, optimism, outrage, or wherewithal to do what I need to do. Only when I feel okay can I greet the world as it is.


Fiction writers talk about the importance of “earning the ending.” Basically, what this means is that the events in a given work are plausible. Does the novel’s denouement make sense or does it seem contrived? If the protagonist falls in love, will the reader believe he is capable of falling in love? Maybe I didn’t “earn” the ending I got, and I didn’t get the ending I worked toward. So what? Literature isn’t life. And there’s nothing so bracing as an O’Henry twist in the plot.

Besides, this isn’t even the ending.

So this is where I depart from Freud, the neo-Freudians, post-neo-Freudians, etc. But wait – old Sigmund did have plenty of worthwhile stuff to tell us. One bit of wisdom was that psychoanalysis could not promise freedom from sadness and care, rather that one went from neurotic misery to “ordinary unhappiness.” Glad I got that misery out of the way. And for what’s left – dealing with life as it is — I’m not sure that I would use the term “unhappiness.” And after where I’ve been, I would call it extraordinary.


Click here to subscribe to Beyond Blue and click here to follow Therese on Twitter and click here to join Group Beyond Blue, a depression support group. Now stop clicking.

  • Theresa Gallo

    I enjoyed reading your words. They came to me at a great time.
    I recently lost my job. This means I have no insurance, and no money to see my doctors. I have arthritis throughout my body, end stage in my right ankle. I cannot function.
    So reading this helped me today.
    Thank you

  • Linda

    How do I figure out if my pain is mentally or physically generated?

  • Linda

    I go to a psychiatrist and have had 2 neck surgeries. I am on antidepressants and pain killers.

  • Sieed

    I too can relate to this story I have lived with unimaginable emotional and physical pain and I have no answers.But God is able to heal any pain.But my story is I have not used any therapy even though it my be needed! I’ve learned to trust God’s word.

  • Your Name

    I do not have a comment I have question to anybody that has lost weight..
    What I am trying to find out is , I weigh 422 pounds & my knees do hurt alot to walk I do have to sit alot..when I was young I was not fat.
    In the past three years I gain lots of weight. If I loss all my fat will my knees stop hurting..
    Thank Cisco

  • To 422 pounds

    I would say there are good chances your kne pain would go away if you lost weight. Here are some things I would suggest looking into
    – custom orthotics and knee braces to prevent further injury and ease pain
    – non-weight-bearing exercise, like aquafit classes or stationary bike
    – eating better. Swap out one bad thing for one good thing every few weeks (ie take out white bread and use mutli-grain. A few weeks later, add 4 glasses of water per day…. and so on)
    – don’t worry too much about how much you eat, focus on WHAT you eat
    – see a doctor, nutritionist or other professional so you can lose weight safely and without injuring yourself
    all the best!

  • just wondering

    i really enjoyed reading your story. i was just wondering, (since you didn’t mention) what pain did you have exactly? was it physical or emotional?

Previous Posts

Seven Ways to Get Over an Infatuation
“Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I” wrote US songwriter Lorenz Hart about the feeling of infatuation. It’s blissful and euphoric, as we all know. But it’s also addicting, messy and blinding. Without careful monitoring, its wild ...

posted 12:46:43pm Feb. 19, 2014 | read full post »

When Faith Turns Neurotic
When does reciting scripture become a symptom of neurosis? Or praying the rosary an unhealthy compulsion? Not until I had the Book of Psalms practically memorized as a young girl did I learn that words and acts of faith can morph into desperate ...

posted 10:37:13am Jan. 14, 2014 | read full post »

How to Handle Negative People
One of my mom’s best pieces of advice: “Hang with the winners.” This holds true in support groups (stick with the people who have the most sobriety), in college (find the peeps with good study habits), and in your workplace (stay away from ...

posted 10:32:10am Jan. 14, 2014 | read full post »

8 Coping Strategies for the Holidays
For people prone to depression and anxiety – i.e. human beings – the holidays invite countless possibility to get sucked into negative and catastrophic thinking. You take the basic stressed-out individual and you increase her to-do list by a ...

posted 9:30:12am Nov. 21, 2013 | read full post »

Can I Say I’m a Son or Daughter of Christ and Suffer From Depression?
In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, we read: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” What if we aren’t glad, we aren’t capable of rejoicing, and even prayer ...

posted 10:56:04am Oct. 29, 2013 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.