Chronic Pain and Devotion

How can we honor our gods and our spirituality when we can barely get out of bed?

When chronic pain and illness affect your religion.

Today’s a little worse than normal. On top of the usual pains that comprise my existence, I woke up with searing, stabbing nerve pain in my low back and hip. The kind where clothing hurts. The kind where it feels like you’re being slowly stabbed with hot nails. And still, the other pains do not subside – arthritic and damaged low back, hands swollen and aching from making last night’s dinner, the ever-present headache that never leaves. More that just doesn’t even filter into my awareness anymore, because it’s always there.

How do you manage to perform devotion to your deities when you can’t even take a shower?

How can you stay observant and watch for signs of inspired serendipity when pain and the medications for it cloud your mind?

For a long time, I’ve thought that it was just me. Maybe a few others. It’s just me that hurts so bad, it’s just me who can’t bring herself to refresh her altar, just me who can’t wander through a park to listen to the birds talk. Just me whose pain interferes with _everything_. But the more I listen, the more I watch, the more I hear – it’s all of us. One way or another, us sensitive, spiritual folk are hurting more and more. For some, it’s poor sleep. Others, achy knees. Still others, people like me who are becoming more disabled.

I’d originally started this post as a way of working through my own difficulties, but as I write, I see that we need to work on making our pagan religion more accessible to _everyone_.

Though many a stereotype features lithe maidens in flower crowns, dancing around a fire, more stories feature a learned crone, a wizened sage, an elder who sits more than they stand. We need to remember both sides of this duality (and everything in between). We need to make space for sore muscles and heavy bones. We need to include accessibility in the assumptions of planning events, whether it be something massive like PantheaCon, or something small like a personal ritual in your backyard.

As well as physical accessibility, there’s the damage of ever-looming war and violence that is so prevalent in this time. You see more mentions of self-care flaring now and again, bits of memes that say “you can’t help others if your own cup is empty” or something similar. But with so many of us coming from dysfunctional lives or families, self-care is -hard-. It’s not something we learned as children. It’s a foreign concept that now requires explaining, context, and rules. Even if the rules are simply there to provide structure and a sense of permission. We need to shift the concept that self-care is something you do once in a while, or something that’s a special treat. Self-care needs to be something you do all the time. Something as easy as breathing. Because even in times of comparative peace and calm, we -still- need self-care. We still need to treat ourselves well. We just forget.

The gods remember, though. See, that’s the common thread. Even though we’re stressed, we hurt, we’re sick, we’re injured, the gods are still there. Sometimes the relationship changes. Sometimes the voice you hear is a little more faint, a little less clear. That’s a facet of faith, though. That even though you can’t see them, they’re still there. You believe the moon is still in the sky, even when she’s waned and hidden. So are the gods the same. Or, y’know, they’re much, much louder.

When you think that what you are is insufficient, remember that the gods have faith in you. That’s why they speak to you, that’s why they show you beauty, that’s why they’re there. If you cannot be kind to yourself for your own sake, be kind to yourself for theirs. Similar to the idea of incorporating self-care into your every day, spirituality can be similarly integrated. Let your daily duties become daily divinity. Bring your mindset back to you, become more mindful in the things you do.

For example, taking a shower. Sure, it can be a mundane exercise of wash, lather, rinse, repeat. Or, it can be a meditative experience. Open the door the bathroom, breathe in. Close the door, breathe out. Open the shower door or curtain, breathe in. Turn on the water, breathe out. If you want, light a candle, spark some incense, play some music. If you do not have the time or ability for that, then quiet and still is what you need. Remember to listen to yourself. Do you want music? Then do it. Can’t do music? Maybe find an app that will simulate a light show with changing colors. There is no perfect; there is only what’s right for you. Step into the shower carefully. Maybe instead of using a shower pouf scrubby, use a soft wash cloth. Or just your hands. Or conversely, a nice stiff brush. Let yourself have these choices. It’s a shower, not an important phone call. Do you want the water hotter? Do it. Cooler? Soothing in the summer. Give yourself the ability to choose. Don’t run on autopilot all the time. It would seem like autopilot would give you some breathing space, but when you don’t consciously choose it, it really doesn’t. It keeps you from the present, the right now, the place where things happen. The place where you choose how to proceed.

The world is big and scary right now. Many of us can’t make a huge difference in what’s going on. We feel powerless, we feel weak. We feel guilty for having needs. That’s why being mindful and present is so important. It reminds us that in the here and now, there -are- choices. There are differences we can make. We can have needs. It’s okay to not be strong all the time.

About the Author

With a body moving into cronehood before her mind is ready, Maeve writes of her experiences as healer, wordsmith, and witch. How she navigates the pagan path as a disabled woman, how she finds the divine in daily experiences, and how works to move with grace through it all are the cornerstones of her prose. Maeve also delves into poetry and art when the muse moves her so.

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