Monday, October 25, 2010

Photograph of Pain

(Note: This is actually a story rather than a blog, which appeared on Redroom on October 8. I hope you find it relevant and interesting)

In this photograph you can't tell what's the matter. The woman is crying, but she's crying in a beautiful garden with jasmine trailing down the column behind her. You can just see a hummingbird, if you look carefully at that top right shadow.  The woman is well dressed, the sky is blue, and it appears this is a pleasant Spring or Summer day. She is comfortably seated on a redwood chair, and the man leaning over her shoulder looks both concerned about her and attractive. In the background is a spacious white house. On the table are lovely fruits - melons and canteloupe and grapes cut up in wooden bowls, with a pitcher of water nearby; and you just know that pitcher is cold and the water tastes of squeezed lemon.

If you are cold, if you are hungry, if you are homeless or lonely, you will have no sympathy for this woman. Surely, you think, if I could be surrounded by love and abundance, I would not be sitting with puffy red eyes and a mound of wadded Kleenex in front of me.

And in truth, the woman is grateful. She knows how lucky she is. She knows she has everything others strive for all their lives and do not get. She knows it would all be worse if she were alone, if she were dirty and cold, if no one cared. Nevertheless she is in pain, and when you are in pain, you can't think of much else.
Pain is the greatest single feature in any landscape. It is like a mountain of burning granite, so large you cannot see around it or even up to the top, and so hot you cannot escape its radiating presence even if you turn your back. Pain is a mountain that has no path, no matter how many times you have climbed it. Pain is the place you must go alone, even if you are surrounded by friends.

 Maybe you had a good reason for climbing the pain mountain. Maybe it was logical and imperative and inspired. But no matter how much you believe in your quest, the further up the mountain the less sense it will make. As the air grows broiling and unbreathable, you will wonder why you came. Before you reach the peak of pain, you might realize that it was not worth it; nothing could be worse than the ice pick in your heart, the fire of the rocks on the bare flesh of your feet. Reaching the top is pointless, but you are so deep in atmospheric suffering that turning around to go down will be just as bad. The only real way out is to die here. Some people do.

This woman's mountain is insanity, and the ice pick works its way into her brain without reason or warning. She has no idea why she is climbing this mountain. She knows that if she lives to return, no one will be surprised or congratulate her. After all, everybody has to climb the mountain sometime. They assume she will not die up there. She never has before. They assume it cannot be that hard. They assume there must be a good reason. they don't under stand that insanity doesn't have to have a reason.

They do not have this particular mountain in their home country.

The woman takes a pill and starts climbing slowly down the mountain. She will not arrive at the farther side. She will not be further along on her path. She sees the man waiting for her. She hears him say, ‘I love you.' She is dimly aware of the garden at the bottom and the warm bed with the clean sheets.  She will be back where she started. She will be free of the pain. If she just hangs on a little longer.

But it will only be a rest stop. She will have to climb this mountain again, maybe tomorrow. It will happen all over and nothing will change. And she cannot bring home the truth she found at the top – that this is not worth it, that it doesn’t matter. It never matters, the beauty of the country where you suffer. She will come down with the truth in her pocket and show it to no one. Because she promised him. She promised she would always come down.

(Don't forget that Deborah's book about coping with mental illness of all kinds is now available on If you speak a language other than English, try buying it as an ebook from Kindle, which is able to translate for you.)