Being In The Moment When The Moment Hurts

The past three days of my life have been spent in pain. Sometimes, when we hit the right weather conditions and my body is out of whack, I can have a migraine that goes on for days. The body’s instinct is to run from pain, to do everything you can to make. It. Stop. Now.

With chronic pain, that constant fight can actually make things worse. With chronic migraine, it can lead to insanity. I started practicing mindfulness when I realized I had tried literally every treatment modern and alternative medicine had to offer. And they had all failed.

When I understood there literally is no end in sight, no treatment I can badger my insurance company to try, no doctor or healer I can see, an odd feeling of peace overcame me. Instead of fighting, I live the most meaningful life I can while being incapacitated much of the time by pain, nausea, vision disturbance, vertigo, and exhaustion.

At my next doctor appointment after making this decision, my doctor said, “oh, you are practicing radical acceptance.” I had never heard this term. I understand it as accepting your circumstances when they are terrible.

In our culture, accepting a bad health situation is a radical idea. Think about how we talk about people who die of cancer. Instead of “he died of cancer”, the news item will read, “he lost his battle with cancer.” Cancer kills people. Dying of cancer does not make someone a loser who gave up. It is a terrible disease and sometimes it kills.

We are so obsessed with action, with fighting and doing that we cannot accept that sometimes bad things happen. We cannot acknowledge the simple medical fact that we all die eventually no matter how hard we fight. I am not suggesting cancer patients not seek treatment and pursue every avenue to get better. I am saying that if the treatments fail, it is not the fault of the patient. Not every disease can be battled into submission.

Having a chronic illness is exhausting not just because of the symptoms. People cannot accept that I have tried everything, that I am sick and I’m not getting better. They cannot process that I am not battling my disease bravely right now. Perhaps one day I will get better. But subjecting my body to more medicines, invasive treatments, and procedures has not helped so far. Modifying my diet and lifestyle has not fixed me. So for now, I am just trying to live the life I have while being sick.

That life is pretty great, although it is limited. I can’t work full time, often can’t drive, and am an extremely unreliable party guest.

Radical acceptance is heretical in our society. The words “have you tried” drive me crazier than almost any other phrase. Yes, I have. And no, that medicine, diet, or yoga practice didn’t work. I’m so happy for your cousin, coworker or friend that going gluten free worked for them. But my body is different. I have a team of top notch doctors treating me who can’t fix me. They help me manage my symptoms and survive each day with some quality of life.

On days like today where I can’t drive, work much, or even deal with the summer heat outside, it is tempting to go into fix-it mode. I want the pain to stop and it is hard to force myself to just breathe into it and stop fighting.

Today is not a day to conquer worlds. Today is a day to watch The Office on Netflix, catch up on low brain power tasks, and stay away from the car keys. Today is a day to be excited about small things. I can’t wait to hear how my daughter’s hula hoop act went in her summer camp's talent show. Watching my cat take a sunbath on the porch.

Perhaps tomorrow I will engage in battle with chronic migraine. Maybe I will even win a skirmish or two. But that is tomorrow. Today I just have to be.