I know, I know… this seems like an odd perspective. When you’re at your worst and in a lot of pain it can be difficult to see the positive. Sometimes we need to sit in the discomfort and feel sorry for ourselves, but more often than not, we forget to hone in on the positives that come from a pretty shitty situation - our chronic pain.
So in an effort to shed light on the things I’ve gained from my chronic pain, here’s my top 10:
I feel more empathy for those who are going through challenging times
Sometimes, especially early on in my journey, I had a tendency to compare my pain. It can be easy to think, “oh you’ve got the flu? Well try feeling like this 24/7!”… but who is that helping? As soon as I realised that I could connect with people on a deep and personal level through related experiences my outlook changed. My pain became something that helped me to better understand suffering and provide support to those going through similar circumstances I’d experienced in the past.
I enjoy my good days more
We know that sometimes we’ll go through flare ups and the good days may seem few and far between, but when things are going well those days are a gift! When my pain is more manageable, I have space to appreciate things, and I notice everything! The shower I have in the morning isn’t a chore, and the smell of those beautiful flowers isn’t triggering a migraine. I bask in the gratitude of knowing that today was a good day.
I’ve learnt how to rest
It’s taken me a long time to learn how to rest. To someone who hasn’t experienced chronic pain this can seem like a ludicrous concept! “What?! You spend all day in your PJs?! I wish I could do that once a week! I’m too busy!”… yeah, we get it. They mean well, but those reactions can fuel the feeling of guilt we already have about not doing the things we need or want to do. Learning how to actually relax, unwind, de-stress, and re-charge our already depleted energy reserves is a skill. Sitting in bed and watching TV, while twitching your leg because subconsciously you’re thinking about the dirty dishes piling up is NOT rest, Sarah! You’re only adding to your pain.
I know who’s here to stay
Let me tell you, when you’re forced to use a wheelchair 6 months into your university degree and the first thing your course mates want to do as they push you around is decide how we’re going to ‘pimp my ride’ you know you’ve found keepers. Not everyone has been so understanding. Some friends stop inviting you to things because “she always cancels last minute’” and some aren’t comfortable with the ‘5-days-and-still-no-shower’ you. Any friends are worth thanking that understand that the 5 minute walk they think is a doddle in fact isn’t, that turning the main light off so you don’t have to wear your sunglasses indoors is normal, and that although you’d love to see your favourite band live standing at the front will not only kill your body but also give you sensory overload (and breathe…)!
I’m (mostly) comfortable saying no
This was a tough lesson to learn early on. I’m a people-pleaser from way back, so saying no to people and riding out the worry of what they might think of me still takes daily practise. As long as I check in with myself about my motives for saying yes or no, generally I make more sensible decisions. Experiencing chronic pain changes the way you evaluate and respond to your choices, and generally it’s helped me understand whether I’m doing something for the right reasons or not. I am more able to advocate for and protect myself because of my experiences with chronic pain.
I’m better at listening to my body
When pain is high, it can be really overwhelming. It’s tempting to distract or tune out our pain. I did this for many years, and I still have to work against those tendencies of numbing and ‘fixing’, but there is power in tuning in to our pain and listening to our bodies. I notice subtle changes that tell me when I’m about to relapse, and I can (again, mostly) tell the difference between when I’ve given my body a good work out and when I’ve overdone it. Practices like mindfulness have helped me to process my pain more effectively and be more comfortable sitting with my pain.
I’m great at planning
Day trips work like a well oiled machine, I always have anything I’d ever need in my bag, and I’m never late for anything. Chronic pain makes you micromanage everything. Sometimes this has it’s downsides; it’s not always easy to be spontaneous and I often pack everything but the kitchen sink for holiday trips. It has, however, helped me to understand the preparation needed to plan successfully. During my teens I had a reputation for being unreliable, late, and a bit of a scatterbrain. Now, brain fog aside, I’m known as ‘the one who can help you get organised’. Part of the journey towards me becoming a life coach was based on the advice “you should sort other people’s live’s out… you’d be great at that!”. Whilst that’s not exactly what I do, being organised has definitely helped me with my business, and I make a cracking list!
I work harder at self-care
By most health professional’s standards, I’m a model student. I’m T-total, I only drink water and about 3 litres of it a day, I have regular sleeping patterns, I only eat natural, unprocessed sugar, I eat healthily most of the time, I don’t smoke, and I maintain regular exercise. I’m pretty sure the only reason I do this is because I have chronic pain. There’s a stubborn part of me that decided “well, I want to make sure there’s no way anyone can say I didn’t do what I could”. Experiencing chronic pain means you pay more attention to not only your physical health, but mental health too.
I’m better at prioritising
If it’s a choice between doing something because I think I should, or doing something because I need or want to, the latter often wins. When you have limited energy, your choices become more precious and you get really good at making yourself a priority. Some people might see this as being selfish, but ultimately they are not living my life, in my body. I can only do what’s best for me in the moment and having chronic pain has helped me learn the importance of that.
I’m more resilient
Facing some really challenging situations and coming out the other side, sometimes stronger, really helps build resilience. I now have much more of a feeling of “no matter what happens, I’ll be able to deal with it”. In her book ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’, Susan Jeffers talks about fear being the worry that we won’t be able to cope with whatever happens. You often find that those who have been through trauma or adversity and come out the other side are less afraid. We survived.
Coaching is ultimately what’s helped me cultivate these feelings of gratitude in the face of challenge. As a chronic pain coach, I help my clients understand how they interact with their chronic pain, the impact it has on their live’s, and the choices they do have in managing it.
How do you feel about your chronic pain? Send me a message and let me know, I’d love to hear from you!