5 Lessons I have learned whilst living with chronic pain
I have had chronic pain now for almost eleven months. I am in a reasonably unique situation, as it has also taken my medical team exactly that long to determine the cause of my pain, so for the past eleven months, I have been plodding along with fading hope. I had actually come to a point where I had convinced myself that this was it. This was the way I would be for the rest of my life, with constant pain in my neck, shoulder and arm. I imagined myself charging towards my goals, dragging my useless arm behind me. I experienced every emotion imaginable, including anger at myself for behaving like such an ungrateful twit when there are many people in the world who are worse off than me. I was frustrated, fed up, tired and bleeding money, because on top of everything else, pain isn’t cheap.
Three weeks ago I started seeing a new physiotherapist (my third) and after an hour of poking, prodding, lifting, pulling and the weird, uncomfortable sensation of having someone feel my rib cage through my arm pit, I had an answer. The problem is not my arm. Or my shoulder. Or my neck. It is my left pelvis joint. You heard me. Not even the pelvis joint on the same side as my pain… the wonders of the human body.
Cut to now and I am still in pain, but have significantly improved both physically and psychologically. There is a light at the end of the tunnel now and I am chasing it down with everything I have. I am determined to be fixed. I am determined to feel better. And I am bloody determined to prevent this from ever happening to me again.
With all that said, today I am here to tell you about 5 lessons that I have learned whilst living with chronic pain. So here goes.
1. Never, ever, give up.
Over the past three months, I have been working with the most wonderful, supportive coach, who has done everything that she could to help me get to the bottom of my pain. Although physical distance prevented her from poking, prodding and violating my arm pits herself, Nicola has truly not stopped and she is the sole reason I even saw this new magical physiotherapist. She kept my chin up and made me promise not to give up searching for the cause of my pain (even though I had been told in no uncertain terms by one doctor to stop wasting my time and money).
2. Form a cheer squad.
I often try to kid myself into thinking that I am one of those people who can get by on my own. But having a long-term injury made me realise that independent woman, I am not. Sorry Beyonce. I have already mentioned my coach, Nicola, but I also owe huge gratitude to my husband, family, friends, work colleagues and internet pals who rallied around me when times were tough. These guys cheered me on and continue to as my physiotherapist “puts me back together”.
3. People see the truth.
For the most part, I have tried to pretend that I wasn’t in pain. I didn’t want to be a big whinger, crying about my pain all the time. I just wanted to be normal and try my hardest to forget that my neck was throbbing or that I had nerve pain racing up and down my arm like an electrical wire.
That cheer squad I mentioned? Those are the peeps that could see right through my facade. I don’t know why, but it would surprise me when my boss would ask “Are you a bit sore today?” when I was obviously in a cranky mood and having a crappy pain day. (I probably shouldn’t take up a career as a professional gambler… that poker face…)
4. Some people won’t understand.
I know this contradicts my previous point, but hear me out. The problem with invisible illnesses is that people can’t see them. Unfortunately this means that some people just don’t get it. For the most part, the people who really matter will be supportive, but you learn quickly who are the ones who believe you should just “get on with it” or think your injury is a joke. I have learned that these people are just to be ignored. It is hard, but it isn’t worth wasting your energy on someone who isn’t prepared to take your word for it.
5. Pain is no excuse.
This is a lesson I am still learning. In some cases I have allowed my chronic pain to push me forward. I went ahead with re-branding and re-launching my business because I didn’t want my arm pain to get in the way of my success! But in other areas, I have used pain as an excuse and I am working on stamping out that behaviour. Pain has been the reason I have avoided certain things and overindulged in others (chocolate is one of the only things that helps with the pain…) and I am learning to stop the excuses.
Hopefully now that the cause of my chronic pain has been identified, I will be back to pain-free in no time. Honestly, I can’t even imagine what that feels like, but I am adamant that I will get to find out.
Rebecca McFarland is the creator of Pop Your Career, a website dedicated to providing the freshest career advice that won’t bore your socks off. If you like the cut of her jib, you can sign up to get access to her weekly newsletter, The Hump Day Digest, as well as her free ebook, How to Define Your Purpose Vision and Values (Then Use Them to Craft Your Perfect Career!).