Life’s great, and then one day you wake up in pain. It’s weird, but it happens… doesn’t it? But then the pain doesn’t go away, or maybe it leaves temporarily but returns with intensifying frequency. Like the cat who came back the very next day. The initial overwhelming thought might very well be – “What the fuck?” Or at least, it was for me. And a diagnosis (usually after an excruciatingly long process) has no play on feeling better – physically or emotionally. So what does this mean? For you, your family, your friends, your coworkers, heck, even your pets? It’s a constant battle for relief and sanity, that anyone can get through, as long as your have a lot of perseverance.
(Just in case anyone isn’t familiar with that song)
Chronic pain is described as pain that lasts for more than twelve weeks. Three months is definitely a fucking long time to spend in pain, though with a lot of chronic illnesses, the pain associated with them comes on for years. And we’re just talking about physical aches and pains, folks. It is estimated that over 1.5 billion people in the world suffer from some sort of chronic pain. The causes vary from post-surgical or post-trauma to cancer to arthritis to autoimmune diseases like fibromyalgia, lupus and multiple sclerosis, to TMJ. As a suffer of chronic pain for the past to years, I can tell you from experience, it really sucks. However, if you’re reading this, you might already know that.
There is a feeling that comes with having an illness that is hard to shake. It’s the “I suck” feeling. The feeling that it’s your fault, or that you aren’t fun anymore. That you aren’t who you used to be. The truth of the matter is – it’s not your fault. You are still fun. And you aren’t who you used to be. Our life experiences shape and change us. Just because you aren’t who you used to be, doesn’t mean you’re not still awesome. In fact, you can probably be more awesome than you were before you got sick. Erasing that mindset, that feeling, is tough and takes a lot of personal self work. What I’ve learned, particularly over the past six months, is that it begins with loving yourself again, despite the pain. The illness is still there, many can’t be cured, but flipping your mindset can improve your overall existence Your life.
(Photograph by me at my doctor’s office in Toronto, ON, 2016)
It’s somewhat about positivity – attitude is everything, after all – but not solely. Anyone can fake a positive attitude:
“How are you doing today?”
“I’m great.” (Smiles, while in the meantime it feels like I’m dying of pain)
It’s also somewhat about acceptance (you know, those lovely five stages of grief) – but again, not solely. Accepting that you have to deal with this for a long time (or forever) is an important thing to do. Coping, truly coping, is much harder.
Take your illness and pain out of the picture for a few minutes is a good place to start. What do you like about yourself? Make a list. Repeat it out loud to yourself
“I am creative. I am kind. I am smart. I am loving and caring. I try to be the best person I can.” Whatever your list is, it’s perfect, because it’s about you.
Step number two in self care and self love – do some of that care. Take a bath if you like baths, go for a massage, play some music. Personally, I like to write (hey, that’s why I’m here!). A lot of this kind of self care activity is not only good for your spirit, but also for your pain. There is a lot to that body-mind stuff naturopaths preach about. In addition, don’t forget to take your medications as prescribed because that is also an important part of self-care.
(Photography of my journal, 2017)
Do chronic illnesses suck? Yes. Does chronic pain suck? Hell yes. Do I suck? Absolutely not. I’m awesome. It waivers and not every day do I wake up feeling that way. Nor does anyone else in the world really. We all have our good days and our bad ones. For me, it’s about not letting my illness define me. And hopefully, for you it is, or will be the same. This blog is designed to offer tips and suggestions for how to cope with the physical pain, and the emotional pain that comes with it. Anyone who has additional suggestions or topics that they’d like discuss, please feel free to comment or send an email. Living a better life, and ultimately, being a better person than before our illnesses is a good goal. At least for me, and hopefully for you as well.
My favourite self-love podcast: