5 Life Lessons That Have Helped Me Through Chronic Pain


When I first experienced this one big piece of a puzzle and challenge in my life, I must admit I cried buckets of tears as I tried to understand what I was going through. It was all unexpected. I had to give up work (and “life”) for quite some time just to figure out the whys on this part of my life — why I feel restless, why am I aching, why do I suddenly get sprains or cramps randomly… I could go on for minutes telling you all the whys, but this is not about that. Recalling it, there is still a sting in my heart that will never be gone, for I lived my life during those years with such exuberance, living a life like how I think a normal 28-year-old would — waking up feeling rested, ready to face the day and up for some life adventures. It was fun, until that day when it felt like I was robbed of it.

 

Looking back five years later, I have realized that though it may have created a sting in my heart that still lingers and questions that are left unanswered, there are actually a lot more things pain has taught me, which I wanted to share to help people struggling with chronic pain – or any kind of pain there is – to realize the same thing I did. Hopefully the following can help you through the journey of living with chronic pain.

1. Equanimity

Although this word/concept has been present since early days and has been practiced by all sorts of beliefs/religions, I must admit I only came across this word after I got this condition. I read it in Toni Bernhard’s book, “How to be Sick,” and basically, it teaches the essence of equanimity as “accepting life as it comes to us without blaming anything or anyone — including ourselves.”

During those times when I first felt pain, I had been overthinking why that was happening to me, or what I had possibly done wrong during those days when I was still pretty much “normal.” I was hard on myself then, for I was having difficulty understanding all the whys of it. I must admit that having a career as a designer, I work late a lot (all design agency people will understand this part), and working late can also mean sleepless nights in the office, but then, I bet I am not the only one living this kind of life. Some might even have vices on top of the “designer culture/lifestyle” which I do not have. I even try not to be sedentary by being active in my own little ways.

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But still, why me? That would be myself talking back in the days when the word equanimity was not in my vocabulary yet. So I greatly suggest learning and applying this philosophy in life. This will not just help people like us struggling to understand the rock that hit us, but for the people around us as well.

“Without the bitterest cold that penetrates to the very bone, how can plum blossoms send forth their fragrance all over the universe?”

“If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace. If you let go completely, you will know complete peace and freedom. Your struggles with the world will have come to an end.”

A very good read, highly suggested.

2. Patience

Being in pain every single day of my life also taught me to be more patient.

– Patience with those people who do not understand what chronic pain is like and what a person with chronic pain is going through

– Patience with those who say, “But you don’t look sick.”

– Patience with those people who try to “care” and “diagnose” my condition and actually “prescribe” what I should be eating, drinking or doing

– Patience with those people who do not exactly know what it feels like to be in chronic pain every single day and yet judge you — judge you for the things and situations that are only visible to them, because I opt to keep my life private.

– Patience in finding that right person who I think will stand by me when I am at my most difficult time; someone whom, even if I’m in my ugliest state, will still accept me; someone who will accept this excess baggage I carry and would even somehow help to carry it for me; someone genuine; someone who would accept that this is part of my reality; someone who would listen to whatever it is I feel without getting tired of it and would never judge me, because even if he does not feel my pain, he would care enough and love me enough to just be there for me.

– Patience in understanding that even if I am surrounded by people who completely understand what I am going through, they also may get tired of taking care of me and should be given enough space as well.

– Patience for times that my body would randomly hurt itself in the period where I most want it to “cooperate.”

– Patience with constantly taking lab tests, check-ups and scans and still not getting an answer/answers about what my condition is in the end.

A virtue I think every chronic patient must learn.

3. Acceptance

This has been the hardest part of it all. This is where I have struggled a lot – accepting this is the challenge I have to put up with – because the initial thought of having this condition for as long as I exist hurts. That almost everything is degenerative and irreversible and I have all this for no apparent reason. I could not get any explanation that is convincing enough to accept. I became indignant over the situation.

But I eventually got tired of all the exasperation it was giving me and tried to get my grip by searching for communities online, people who share the same symptoms as me, reading books I knew would help me and even listening to music that would calm me and was somehow relatable to what I was feeling. It was when I accepted everything that I felt kind of liberated from the condition.

It is not easy, but it’s all worth it in the end. Give it a try.

4. Bravery

One of the things I am grateful for in experiencing all this is gaining the strength to face all of life’s challenges. It taught me that life is definitely full of surprises in many forms and all we have to do is face it and not run away from it. It has taught me to see things from a different perspective and that warriors and champions come in other forms too.

We are all warriors and champions for braving this challenge we have in life.

5. Happiness

People often think that happiness only occurs during the positive moments or milestones in life. It does not and I will attest to that. It’s often when something negative has impacted one’s life that we actually appreciate happiness more. As Lykke Li would put it, “Sadness is a blessing.” We get to see the real reason beyond that happiness.

We find depth in life and we tend to appreciate more of everything — even the littlest of it.

***

Just a few months ago, I cried a bucketful of tears again, for I was told I have osteoarthritis (or it could possibly even be rheumatoid arthritis – I am still to be monitored). I can still recall that look on the doctor’s face when I was told that if it is indeed osteoarthritis, though we can control its progress, it is degenerative – meaning it will still happen. It’s irreversible and the only thing I can do about it is manage it (to top off the rest of the conditions I need to manage).

It was a straight punch in my face, a stab right into my heart. A kind of pain that surmounts even the most painful heartbreak I’ve had. Not because I’m still considered young to have it, but because as an artist/designer, hands are the most important tool of the trade and slowly not being able to use them, especially when they are swelling and aching like hell, is more painful for me than the actual pain itself.

Nonetheless, applying these five things I have learned throughout my journey has helped me (and is still helping me) to be stronger than I used to be. It has taught me to handle the situation better. Yes, I still find myself crying, especially when it is the hands that are hurting, but unlike how I used to before, I will just think and reflect on these five things and it will suddenly ease the emotional pain that the physical pain brings, leaving me with just the physical and mental pain to manage.

I hope these lessons will also guide those people struggling with whatever pain. That like me, they may find this helpful in understanding or at least managing the pain they are experiencing. It is also my way of reaching out and telling my fellow pain friends that they are never alone in the battle – or if they feel they are, to just think of these pointers to help ease the pain. And to those who are continuously inspiring and being an instrument through writing, songs and art, kudos to all of you and thank you for helping people like me to find a speck of light amidst the darkness.

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