A couple of years ago, I did a Mindfulness for Health course with Breathworks. One of the basic principles of the course is the understanding that much of our experience of pain comes from ‘secondary suffering’ – a conglomerate of thoughts, ideas, and emotional reactions to what we are experiencing in our bodies.
As I continued to work in the pages of my foot journal, I realised how much secondary suffering I am walking around with each day and the impact this has had on my body. The pain in my foot isn’t just about physical sensations; there are all sorts of thoughts, feelings and inner voices at play that add to a sense of struggle.
Why am I so ashamed?
As soon as I created the first page in my foot journal, a familiar feeling of shame came over me. I realised I had to make a page about this difficult emotion or else it would stop me being able to express myself on this subject altogether.
I found it difficult to know how to portray this feeling because a sense of shame is one of the main things that has kept me from sharing my experience more openly. It’s the thing that makes me want to keep up the facade that I am actually fine and don’t need any help or support.
It felt powerful to write the question: ‘Why am I so ashamed?’ The act of acknowledging this feeling started to create some breathing space around it. I kept adding things to the page and then covering them up or removing them. This mirrored the dynamic between my desire to express what’s really going on for me whilst at the same time wanting to hide it away.
This girl appeared during one such moment when I was removing something from the page. She is tentatively showing her left foot, just as I was making my first steps to tell my story in this journal.
It can be a common experience for people with chronic pain or illness to feel ashamed of their condition as if it means they have failed, or that something is fundamentally wrong with them.
The more I look at this issue, the more I realise how I have internalised quite a harsh ableist voice that regards anything other than being fully able-bodied and self-sufficient to be wrong and weak, something to hide and certainly not something to trouble anyone else about. I wonder how many of us are walking around feeling this way towards the parts of ourselves that don’t live up to ‘the norm”.
You haven’t tried hard enough!
It felt good to externalise these harsh inner voices – especially the one that berates me continually for not doing enough to ‘cure’ myself, that tells me everything is my own fault. If I would only do more yoga, more physio, go on a special diet, keep looking, keep trying, find the right specialist, the right treatment, then I wouldn’t have this problem. According to these judgemental voices, the fact that I still have pain in my foot means I have failed due to sheer lack of determination and willpower.
Even though these voices cause distress when they speak to me, I found myself having fun as I turned them into art. It was a bit like an exorcism! Seeing them visually represented on the page robbed them of some of their power and made me realise they are not necessarily true and are most certainly not me.
After creating these two pages, I felt like I had a little more space to explore my experience with my foot. I look forward to sharing these pages with you in the coming days and weeks.