I've been managing chronic pain for over twelve years. Although I've found strategies and a health support team to increase my mobility and decrease the pain over this time, I'd given up on finding any answers as to why.
I recently found a physical therapist who was able to put the pieces together in a way in which all of my symptoms made sense. I was hit by a car when I was a young child and had emergency surgery for a lacerated liver, after which my neuromuscular system recovered in some not-so-healthy ways.
It's easy to ask the usual questions: Why me? What could I have done differently? and Who is to blame? but I've found that line of thinking to be unproductive.
Below are five life-lessons I've learned through managing chronic pain:
Focus on the present.
Use your energy to practice mindfulness, not get distracted by the past and what-ifs. You can't change the past. You can also default to panic about every flare-up, thinking that it will last forever. That just causes more stress and tension. Again, focus on the right now.
You are enough.
You are more than your job. You are more than a mother, husband, or any other title with which you identify. Just being you is enough. Stop doing all the things you think you should be doing that don't actually need to be done, and don't feel guilty about it. You have worth and value outside of what you do.
No one knows your needs unless you communicate them.
People don't understand your struggles or challenges intuitively. Communicating what you need is a strength, not a weakness. If people judge it as a weakness, that's their issue, not yours. In general, people aren't thinking about you. They have their own needs on which they're focusing, not yours.
What other people think of you really doesn't matter.
What you think of yourself matters the most. Even the people who live with you don't fully understand what it takes to overcome your challenges on a daily basis. Stop needing others' approval and give yourself the understanding, empathy, and compassion you desire. The more you respect yourself, the more you're able to create the life you want, no matter the circumstances.
The only true constant is change. When my pain was at its worst, and it felt like I couldn't go on anymore, I tried to remember that. Everything is temporary, even the journey of life itself. If you aren't able to rise up and be your best self in this moment, waiting is your next best solution. Being in what seems like a holding pattern may just be the universe preparing your next adventure. Hang in there.
It's pretty weird to think of having chronic pain as a gift, and I'm not always in that head space every moment of every day, but there is truth in it. How can I not be grateful for these lessons that have changed my life in countless positive ways? Plus, I'm actually lucky to be alive, since a lacerated liver is often the endgame.
These and other gifts are what I focus on when the healing process temporarily causes more pain. Change is uncomfortable, whether or not it's physical, emotional, mental, or cultural change, but that's the price we pay for the beauty of our humanity as risk-takers and life-lovers.
Dr. Nancy Williams is a music educator and leadership & life coach whose purpose is to inspire awareness and empowerment so that others can be agents of positive change in the world. Download the free guide "3 Ways to Beat Imposter Syndrome" or free worksheet "5 Steps to Overcoming Overwhelm" and get weekly emails of inspiration and leadership sent directly to your email inbox.