When at the heart of suffering, the darkness can be shed by giving onto others. Instead of remaining trapped within self-pity, shifting into a more selfless mode can change perspective and change perception. This ability to shift can mean the difference between suffering and thriving, between suffering and surviving, and between suffering and living with pain. Once at this shift point, pain does not necessarily equate to suffering. How can one reach the shifting point between being egocentric to altruistic? Volunteering is a great place to start.
Many of my patients have eased their suffering by volunteering. The positive energy reaped by helping the less fortunate, the helpless, and the weak can help to relieve frustration, anger, and depression. Optimism can replace pessimism. And all of these negative feelings associated with chronic pain can convert into positivity if only for a brief but valuable moment of joy. The joy of giving.
Here are just a few examples of what some of my patients have done for the greater good.
- Volunteered as a wildlife rescuer: Despite chronic pain from an amputation, she spent days and nights caring for sick, abandoned, and baby squirrels. Yep, squirrels. A small squirrel's life might not mean much to anybody, but these squirrels were hers to care for and nourish until they were ready to be released back to the wild. She would always smile when she told stories about her squirrels. With the happiness from saving squirrels, she thrived, survived and lived with pain.
- Volunteered to make a quilt: Despite severe facial and neck pain, she spent as much time as she could tolerate at her sewing machine making a quilt for the hospice hospital. The pride from finishing the quilt and the joy from giving it away gave her the strength to thrive, to survive and to live another day with pain.
- Volunteered to foster and find homes for birds: Despite the severe phantom pain, she focused her attention on saving homeless, domesticated birds and finding new homes for each. One bird at a time, she offered a second chance to birds and in turn was giving herself a chance to thrive, survive and live with pain.
- Volunteered to answer a crisis help line: Despite cervical and lumbar post-fusion pain, she still had the ability to answer the phone and talk to someone in need of advice. By putting a perfect stranger on the right pathway or by giving a perfect stranger someone to talk with, she gave herself a feeling of self-worth and purpose. Reaching out to people in crisis allowed her to harvest the positive energy needed to continue to thrive, survive and live with pain.
The pride of giving can lift someone up out of the darkest places. Each one of these people found a way within their own abilities to help others. I encourage everyone to find a way to volunteer just a little bit at a time. With each accomplishment, psychological distress can be eased little by little. Through methods like volunteering which fills the soul with positive energy, not everyone in pain has to suffer.