I go into my pantry and am surprised, as I am every year, to see how many cans and jars have passed their expiration dates and need to be thrown out.
It is a good time too to look at the people in our lives and see if any of them may have also passed their expiration dates, not just friends, maybe some family and medical people as well.
I used to live in New York City, but Dr. Michaels*, my neuro-ophthalmologist, was in Philadelphia.
He suggested I find someone closer to home. He recommended Dr. Smith* and I made an appointment to see him.
I was uncomfortable from the moment I walked into Dr. Smith’s consulting room. It was a hot summer day. The air conditioning unit was on. Any air blowing on my face was a major trigger for my neuralgia pain.
“Could you turn that down, Dr. Smith? It is really setting off the pain,” I asked.
“If it really hurt, you would just turn it down yourself,” he replied.
No caring, no comprehending. I stayed with him anyway. I felt I had nowhere else to go, no other doctor I could see. The pain speaks to me: “You have to have someone and Dr. Michaels has no other recommendations.”
I did not end our relationship until the day I read his chart note: “There are days like today I believe in her pain.”
Keeping him for my doctor as long as I did was a bad decision. I knew he was wrong for me and yet I stayed.
Which reminds me of a friendship I had.
When I moved to a condo in my new town I quickly became friends with a neighbor. The friendship was based solely on neediness, on both sides. For me the need was being alone in a new town, having no one, and having pain 24/7.
Every 3 or 4 years, she would break off the friendship. Her reasons were specious; it was just something she needed to do. Three or four months later she would call me as though nothing had happened and we would take up the friendship again.
It was clear to me that I needed to end the friendship, but I needed a friend more. Because my need was greater than the pain of the breakup, I went back. And back again the next time. It was only after the fourth time she ended the friendship that I realized this was something that needed to be ended.
How many times do we look at the toxic people in our lives and decide our need of them is greater than the pain and problems they cause?
The pain often makes us needier then we might otherwise be; the ability to get out and about harder for us, the need for comfort and care greater than accepting that the succor is not coming or comes in a hurtful way.
“You are malingering” “You’re making this up.” “It really doesn’t hurt that much.” “Why can’t you do the shopping today, why do I always have to do it?”
It is hard to spring clean. But it needs to be done. Whether I shampoo a rug, throw out those torn stained favorite pair of pants or say goodbye to people whose lives have been intertwined with mine but are hurters not helpers, I am always surprised at how much better I feel.
It is almost funny when I realize how hard it is to think about doing these things, how difficult they look and feel in my mind, and how much easier they make my life once I have done them.
This is reposted from my new column for the National Pain Report.