The Joy Will Burn Out The Pain

“Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.”

Joseph Campbell

At age 26, I developed a set of infections that sent my body into a downward spiral. My immune system shifted into, and then became stuck, in overdrive. Friends disappeared and I no longer had the energy or strength to do all things I had once loved. Life as I knew it was slipping, like sand, through my fingers.

A shift in thinking

Overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness, loneliness, and despair, I tried to pick up journaling. I knew that I had to shift my thinking, but I didn’t have the energy or focus to stay consistent.

While seeking a simple, low-effort means of injecting more positivity into my sleepy, sedentary existence, I happened upon the perfect tool: a journal that divides each day of the year into five rows, each row representing subsequent years. I could manage to jot down a few words, even on my worst days.

Blips of joy

“Whatever may be the tensions and the stresses of a particular day, there is always lurking close at hand the trailing beauty of forgotten joy or unremembered peace.”

Howard Thurman

Every evening at dinner, I sit down with my long-time partner, and we discuss the highlights of our days. The entries are often as simple as seeing a squirrel on the patio or hearing a bird signing outside the window. Other days, we record seeing a new doctor or receiving a promising diagnosis. Even on days when the radar is clouded with nothing but bad news, we always find something to celebrate.

The structure of the journal allows us to a catch a glimpse of prior years as we populated the current. This time four years ago, we were watching Seinfeld. Two years ago, the squirrels I’d been feeding nuts began begging at the door. Every day over the last four years has presented me with at least one small blip of joy. The spots on the radar are sometimes hard to identify, but are always there.

Joy as a life raft

After eight years, my chronic health issues largely resolved. As I reflect on my time of illness, I recognize now that the daily exercise of practicing gratitude and seeking out joy is what sustained me. The beauty of a rainbow hugging the misty mountain, the sweetness of my boyfriend bringing home a bouquet of tulips, and the sense of recognition when a doctor first said, “I believe you.” These are the moments I clung to, desperately. They were my life raft as I coursed down the treacherous rapids of life.  

When I look back on the last eight years of my life, I can acknowledge that I didn’t accomplish much more than survive it. Yet, for anyone who has faced a chronic health condition or daunting challenge in life, you know that surviving, in and of itself, can be a stunning triumph.

Make joy the focal point

Have you even gone through a dark period in life where you felt so consumed by worry, anxiety, or fear that it seemed there was no way out?

In those periods when dark clouds are casting shadows over your life, I would implore you to “find a place inside where there’s joy.” Upon discovery, shine a light on any source of delight, pleasure, or contentment in your life. The sorrow won’t necessarily dissipate but, if you choose to look past the darkness and follow the light, all those tiny instances of joy will glisten all the more boldly.

The minuscule can become monumental under the right lens. The hidden becomes obvious when we begin looking. If you seek out the goodness in life, joy will gradually overshadow the darkness. And, in due time, the joy will burn out the pain.

You can find more from me on my personal blog:

31 thoughts on “The Joy Will Burn Out The Pain

  1. Thank you so much for reading and for your kind comment, Dr. Stein. Life is filled with challenges, but those trials can change us in ways we would never have fathomed, ways that make us even better. 💕

    Liked by 3 people

  2. What a lovely post. Carving out the little snippets of joy is so important, as you say, and has a positive effect on our emotional and mental health.

    I find journaling helps too, especially if I include gratitude and positive affirmations.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for you kind words, my dear! The ripple evolving into a tsunami may be an overused analogy, but all too often those small moments of joy and gratitude hold far more power than we could imagine. 💕

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “Joy as a life raft”. Inspiring, Erin and this? “Even on days when the radar is clouded with nothing but bad news, we always find something to celebrate.” Even squirrels and Seinfeld! Thank you for sharing your story and your whole-hearted self with us. Hugs, love and admiration to you, friend! 😘🤍😘

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Erin, your post is poignantly beautiful. The words themselves, but even more in the sense that they’re a true reflection of your journey. I love how how you said just surviving is a success at times, and you’re right – I’ve been there. But then the practice of finding joy, even in the small things, opens us up. It does indeed burn out the pain. I couldn’t heart your post more. Thank you! 🤍🤍🤍

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Kenda, thank you so much for reading and commenting! While I wouldn’t wish suffering on anyone, it warms the heart to connect with someone who has been there–someone who has not only faced, but overcome some big challenges. I’m so glad to hear it resonated with you. ❤️

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Such a strong attitude after a long journey Erin. It is lovely to have the opportunity to read how you’ve navigated obstacles and continue to capture joy. I had to laugh when I read “squirrels”. I have my own group that follows the same begging routine. I laugh out loud and they have no idea how happy they make me!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Deb! I love that the squirrels bring you so much joy too! I gave them names, fed them carrot tops and nuts, and then had to slow it down when they dug a tunnel leading right to the front door. Haha!! For a few years there, most entries state “The Nibbles family did X or Y.” The pesky rodents were transformed into little friends though my gratitude practice.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I suffered a devastating burnout eight years ago and regretfully retired – with a much-reduced pension – at age 53. I’m pretty sure it was adrenal exhaustion, but no doctor confirmed it for me (or cared to 😕). I’ve gotten much of my life back but at my age, and understanding that I burned the candle at both ends for decades, I do not expect to ever have the energy I had in my youth. So this post resonated deeply for me, and I was so happy to read that you are doing so much better. I LOVE that you and your husband focus on the positives, EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. What an amazing habit to have gotten into! I’ve been wanting to adopt a mindfulness habit in the coming year and yours sounds like something I could gently do every day. My sincerest thanks for this…🙏🙏🙏

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Oh Patti, I’m so sorry to hear about your devastating loss, but I’m glad that you’ve gotten much of your life back and that this post resonate with you. One of the best feelings in the world is simply finding someone else that understands your experience. The daily focus on the positive was life-changing during those particularly challenging times, but you’re absolutely right that it be applied by anyone. Good luck with your 2023 gratitude practice! ❤️

      P.S. One of my myriad of diagnoses was adrenal insufficiency and, while I’m not qualified to give medical advice, my recent game-changes have been Klaire Labs Adrenal Cortex, Biotics Research Thyrostim, and MediHerb Rhodiola & Schisandra. If energy is still an issue and you have a good doctor on your side, these are some products you might look into.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. What a beautiful post about a long journey, Erin! I love your phrase “blips of joy” and your reflection that the miniscule can become monumental. Your writing is beautiful and I suspect even if it feels like you didn’t accomplish much in those eight years, surviving them in a way that allowed you to learn the wisdom of small gratitudes and share it is very much accomplishing a great deal!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you, Wynne! I love that idea that sharing lessons learned *today* is an accomplishment that is only possible because of the journey I’ve been on. I can’t help but think of the mosaic you recent shared… you collect the broken bits of ceramic and arrange them into a beautiful and cohesive picture. Those small gratitude, when taken together, are greater than the sum of their part. ❤️

      Liked by 3 people

  8. I love how you have found a way to refocus your thoughts, to find the joy, for that helps us feel gratitude, which has been associated with healing.

    When I first heard of this concept, I was so deeply depressed I struggled to find anything to feel grateful for. It seemed to be so far out of reach in those moments. Yet, when I focused on those fleeting moments of joy, I was able to see stepping stones through each day to be able to keep taking another and then another step forward.

    Bravo for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Tamara, I can completely relate! I was in a pretty dark place when I took up the joy practice and, while I already *knew* all the techniques, they felt so out-of-reach due to low energy and the direness of it all. However, knowing that I would be asked at the end of the day what the BEST part of my day was, I trained myself to constantly be on the lookout. The good bits were so few and far between that I had to be diligent and, now that nearly everything has improved, there are small things to be grateful for everywhere I look.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “However, knowing that I would be asked at the end of the day what the BEST part of my day was, I trained myself to constantly be on the lookout. ” I think you’ve nailed it! Unless we become or make ourselves aware, those moments slide by and get filtered out by our Amygdala, which seeks out similar negative experiences to focus on. Unless we make that conscious choice, we probably won’t see it, then our lives become a self-fulfilling prophecy of life being negative.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I feel for what you have gone through Erin. I think you showed a lot of resilience in looking always for the positive. I know how overwhelming chronic fatigue can be, and the constant chipping away by others who tell you that everyone gets tired and to snap out of it. If only it were that easy.

    I am glad that you’ve found an approach that is working for you. Never give up with your positive approach, it really makes such a difference

    Liked by 3 people

  10. I too love your phrase: “Joy as a life raft.” Close to 20 years ago, my wife started having MS-like neurological symptoms, muscle issues, fatigue, etc. We thought she might end up in a wheel chair. It sapped our joy. We had more questions than answers. The one thing we came to an agreement on was that we were going to hang onto each other, find the joy in little things (as simple as relaxing together on the couch), and be thankful for what we had. I wouldn’t say it was a cure, because it wasn’t, but it gave us power to overcome. It gave us a focus. A simple thing like joy. Thanks so much for sharing your story. Very much appreciated.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for the thoughtful comment, Brian. I love the agreement you had with your wife and I find is beautiful that, in the face of the unknown, you recognized that simple gifts in life like having one another’s support. It makes all the difference in the world. 💕

      Liked by 3 people

  11. It’s amazing and speaks to your resiliency that you found a life raft in writing that got you through the eight long years. Finding the daily and small moments of joy truly is life affirming and life saving.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Well written and fabulous blog title by the way. I agree that Joy will burn the pain and the blips of joy will never go back to haunt you again.

    Pain is inevitable and it is torturing we all want it to stop but it takes time just like the chronic illness I read about here

    Liked by 1 person

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