Why I'm Redefining My Relationship With Chronic Pain

“These mountains you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb.” –Najwa Zebian

In fourth grade, my teacher assigned a quote every day, which I copied into my English notebook in cursive. Then I wrote a paragraph about the meaning behind the quote, using real world examples to illustrate my ideas. So here’s my quote for today. And despite the fact that I got an A+ on my quote journal, I can’t think of anything to say about this quote. I’ve sat at my desk for 20 minutes trying to write about this quote, and I’m at a loss. Because I don’t really know what it means, but I know that this is exactly how chronic pain feels. It’s the suffocating weight of chronic pain, the grieving for how easy life used to be, the anxiety about future pain and the isolation. So instead of writing a paragraph about this quote, I’m going to tell a story. And maybe the story illustrates the meaning of the quote, or maybe the quote is actually about climbing mountains and I missed the point.

Eight months ago a new man walked into my life. I was enjoying my independence as a single 20-something, but I didn’t get a choice with this relationship. His name is Mr. Ice Pick. Since day one, he’s been sitting on my shoulder with his ice pick and stabbing my neck and head all day. He’s the last thing I think about before I fall asleep, and he wakes me up every morning. When I zone out in a conversation with a friend, it’s not because I’m not interested. It’s because I haven’t been giving Mr. Ice Pick the attention he wants. And let me tell you, Mr. Ice Pick is high maintenance. I like to exercise; Mr. Ice Pick is a firm believer in lying in bed all day. He gets angry when I sit too long; however, he also hates it when I move around a lot. He’s never happy.

For a few months, Mr. Ice Pick consumed me. He controlled everything I did. It was exhausting to get through day after day with Mr. Ice Pick on my shoulder. And now I’m really sick of Mr. Ice Pick. He makes everything way too difficult. The things I used to find so enjoyable are now not. In order to cope with Mr. Ice Pick, I had to put my old self into a box and hide away. Because Mr. Pick made me not me anymore. I used to define myself by the things that I did: being a medical student, being active and living life at full speed. But Mr. Ice Pick changed things, and I lost myself.

I decided to break up with Mr. Ice Pick. Eight months is way too long to stay in an awful relationship. All he ever did was take things from me. So I’m working on finding myself again – just me. And yes, Mr. Ice Pick is still there. He still sits on my shoulder all day. But I can choose to ignore him. This new me might not do the same things as the old me. I won’t be running a marathon anytime soon. I won’t be having a 10-hour study session tomorrow. I won’t be going to a loud concert next month. The list could go on and on forever about things I can’t do, but that would be Mr. Ice Pick talking.

woman in red coat standing on a tree stump in the woods

I’m still me. I’m resilient. I’m strong, and I’ve learned what true compassion is. I’m still searching to find myself, but I’m getting there. I’m not sure where I’ll be five years from now. But when I close my eyes and envision my 29-year-old self, I don’t see Mr. Ice Pick. I see myself, changing my corner of the world for the better. Maybe not as a doctor, but as me. I’m ready to lighten my burden and just keep climbing.

This post originally appeared on The Ellen Blog.

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