What Pain Has Taught Me
It is debilitating, but it has helped me to become a better person
I’ve been in constant pain for nearly 10 years.
I have various long-term conditions, including Fibromyalgia, Epilepsy, EUPD and an Anxiety Disorder. I also often suffer from chronic fatigue, and I get migraines and headaches more often than most. When I look at that list, it seems as though I’ve been dealt more than my fair share of illnesses — particularly considering that I am still in my twenties. But I’ve had no choice but to get used to it.
Chronic pain is obviously unpleasant. But I feel like it’s also had some positive influences on my life. Something I often ask myself is:
“Would I take my experiences of illness away if I had the chance?”
I’ve thought long and hard about this, and I think the answer is no. The main reason is that my encounters with chronic pain have shaped me into the person that I am today. Naturally, there are times that my chronic illnesses make me extremely miserable. But I’ve been looking for the positive side to all of this, and I think I’ve found it. My pain has taught me a lot of important lessons.
I have learned to be more empathetic to others when they are in pain
I think this is the biggest lesson that pain has taught me. I’m able to better connect with others, particularly those who are also suffering some kind of pain — be it physical or emotional.
This lesson didn’t happen instantly. When I first became unwell, I used to become frustrated with others when they complained about pain or tiredness. When I was about 16, I started having constant headaches and migraines that were difficult to control. I also struggled with possibly the longest bout of insomnia that I’ve ever had — so if someone around me (who wasn’t suffering from chronic illness) complained about being tired or having a headache, I just felt angry. I remember thinking ‘well at least they’re not always exhausted’ or ‘they should just be glad they don’t have a headache all of the time’.
I can now see how unfair that attitude was. But I also understand that I was feeling frustrated and alone — I was still grieving for the life I could have had if illness hadn’t taken over mine.
Nowadays, I can relate to people freely. When people are ill, even if it’s temporary, it’s easy for me to empathise. Being ill sucks and I’m glad to be a person others feel able to talk to about it.
I am learning to rest, unapologetically
This lesson is still in progress. Anyone who has experience of illness or injury will know that this is a particularly tough one to learn.
The world is a very busy place where everybody is in competition with each other. But when you have a chronic illness, you need to move through life much more slowly. I think the best interpretation of this that I have come across is “The Spoon Theory” by Christine Miserandino. The premise is that ‘spoons’ are units of energy, and healthy people have a near-unlimited amount of ‘spoons’ per day. People with illnesses, however, have a limited number and each task they do will ‘spend’ a certain amount of their ‘spoons’. As such, we need to be careful and plan what we do throughout the day so we don’t use all of our energy. Some days, we wake up with hardly any spoons and are forced to rest.
So, on some days, I have no choice but to just sleep off my fatigue and do nothing else.
I still feel guilty when I have to say no to something. But if I push myself too far, I end up paying for it. I’ll ‘run out of spoons’ and need to sleep all day. So I know I need to accept rest when it is necessary.
I am more able to appreciate the good days
Okay, I’m not pretending that when I’m having a good day I wake up and bounce out of bed with a giant smile on my face. I am not a morning person at all, and I don’t think I’ve woken up pain-free in over half a dozen years. But some days are better than others, and I try my best to be grateful for that.
It’s not just physical pain that has taught me this lesson. It was due to my mental illness that in 2016 and 2017 I came close to death at my own hands. I was fed up with living — and I was angry that illness meant I couldn’t live my life the way that I had hoped. Although I am still physically unwell much of the time, my mental health is better than it has been in half a dozen years. I feel grateful every day that I eventually chose life over death.
Good days are a blessing, and I wouldn’t know to appreciate them as much if I didn’t have so many bad days.
I have learned that I am stronger than I know
I can be very pessimistic, but I regularly prove myself wrong.
A couple of years ago, I never thought I could hold down a job. Now I work part-time on a flexible basis in a job that I love.
In 2017, I very suddenly became unable to walk. It still isn’t clear why that happened, but doctors think it was related to my Fibromyalgia. I was very concerned that I would never walk again. Physiotherapy in the hospital was very difficult — my legs were shaking, my arms nearly couldn’t hold my weight, and the pain when standing made me feel sick. But I gradually went from a full walking frame to two walking sticks, and then to one stick. Now I can climb stairs by myself most of the time, and my partner and I have just bought a house. 2 years ago, we never could have imagined owning a house, because I never could have imagined being able to safely climb stairs.
There are more things — I surprise myself often. I am always learning that I am stronger than I know.