When "doing well/better" is Complicated

“That’s the truth about grief: loss gets integrated, not overcome. However long it takes, your heart and your mind will carve out a new life amid this weirdly devastated landscape. Little by little, pain and love will find ways to coexist. It won’t feel wrong or bad to have survived. It will be, simply, a life of your own making: the most beautiful life it can be, given what is yours to live.”

Megan Devine

This year has been rough. After a long period of living with chronic pain and fluctuations in energy levels and mobility, I had to pause everything to undergo a new surgical procedure and make time and space for my recovery. 

A little over three months after the procedure, my recovery is going well. But "well" is complicated. 

I will insert a sort of parenthesis here to share that the quote that opens this blog post is from the book "It's OK That You're Not OK". Megan Devine comes back over and over to the reality that, as a culture, we find it so hard to simply witness pain and loss without trying to fix them. And the reality is that there are things that cannot be fixed. If you or someone close to you have suffered a great loss, this is such a great book. 

Now, coming back to why "well" is complicated to me right now... I have quite a bit of mobility and I'm slowly recovering strength. The pain has gone down in contrast to what it was before the procedure. But my daily life is far from what it used to be, from what I would like it to be.

I am incredibly fortunate and privileged. I have a partner who has unconditionally supported me throughout these months, standing by me when I had to close my clinical practice, when I had to stop doing what gave meaning to my life. I have a loving family that has supported me. I have friends who have shown solidarity and generosity, and for whom I am deeply grateful. These months have been an opportunity to strengthen and deepen my contemplative practice. I've read a lot. And I've continued learning. 

And at the same time, I grieve for my loss. I can't yet sit down to eat or work without a lot of pain. I tire easily. I can't sit down with friends or go to many places. I can't cook, and I so used to enjoy it. Going out of the house means physical pain and a greater need for rest. My rehab has been a full time job for the past few months. My online presence is limited.

I have felt so lonely, which I believe is largely due to the fact that whenever I share authentically how I'm feeling, other people's reaction is usually to try to comfort me, to tell me that everything happens for a reason, that this will make me stronger, that it won't last forever. I notice how most people, when asking me how I'm doing, expect me to reply "really well" or "so much better". Most days, the truth is so much more complex. Multiple emotions are present at the same time. There is a feeling of wellbeing and unease. I no longer have a two-word response to describe how I am, and most of the time a part of my genuine reply is "it hurts".

I don't believe there is a pre-existing or pre-destined reason behind the events that happen to us. I don't believe we "choose" the life we have because there are "lessons" we need to learn. I also don't believe that we magically create our reality with our thoughts. All of these sound to me like variations on a spiritual bypassing theme.  The reality for me is simple: I have / am a body, bodies get sick and they sometimes don't recover. I am living with a loss that can't be fixed, and I am adapting and living the fullest life I am capable of living. 

How are you today? I am interested in your authentic reply - no filters, no mask.

About the author

Lilia Graue is a physician, psychotherapist, consultant and teacher. She works with brave humans to counter performative health, among other oppressive discourses, to do the compassionate healing work necessary to collectively create a culture of body justice and liberation, so that we may all become Fiercely Embodied.

Lilia Graue