When Chronic Pain Made Me Realize I Don't Have Total Control Over My Health

Early on in life, my health problems were typically of my own making, brought on by the usual vices: overeating, drinking or stressing. In response, I would reign in the excesses and my body would revive.
Such a simple prescription for healing! This pattern subconsciously reinforced the belief that I was in control of my health – live a life of moderation and all will be well. I continued to cling to this belief even after developing fibromyalgia years ago because I was fortunately able to manage flare-ups reasonably well through lifestyle changes.

So when I developed chronic pain in my hips five years ago, with no resolution from conventional or alternative treatments, I turned to my usual fixes: relaxation, gentle exercise and nourishing food. When those changes did not yield the hoped for results, I responded by pushing them further. I tried various dietary regimens, some quite strict. I intensified my meditation practice. And I refrained from taking pain medication, believing that fortitude in the face of pain would move me past it — but no such luck!

This wasn’t fair. I was being so good, so disciplined and patient! But my body wasn’t getting the message. The nerves in my hip area continued to do what they did, day and night: buzz, sting and burn, preventing me from sitting and living a “normal” life.

My former confidence that I was in control of my health was being eroded. I soldiered on with clean living, and hoped that perhaps just plain perseverance would see me through. But the truth was becoming undeniable. Knowledge, willpower, patience – my formula for overcoming health woes – was failing me.

The epiphany of the obvious eventually dawned… lifestyle changes, discipline and persistence are not magical talismans against illness and pain. The sobering truth is that every day people with healthy, balanced lifestyles succumb to illness.

This lesson has taken time to assimilate. I have had to grieve the loss of my illusion, the feeling of security I derived from believing that the right combination of information and determination could surmount any health challenge. But going through this process has left me more forgiving of others who might now judge me as responsible for my own predicament. It can be so easy and comforting when you are well to assume credit for such, and so, by implication, to judge those who are not. But the truth is that we have only so much influence over these bodies of ours. And that is only for today. Anyone’s fortune can turn on a dime.

It has been humbling to discover how powerless I am and have been all along. My former good health was often, despite unhealthy habits. And my current health challenges continue despite my very best efforts to turn them around.

At times I’m tempted to give up. Why not eat whatever I want? Why exercise when it only hurts? It seems I will be in pain no matter what I do. But I know not to listen to that voice. I continue with healthful practices because I know that while I may not be able to cure my affliction, poor habits will certainly make it worse. And to the extent that my body may be trying to heal, I don’t want to sabotage that process. I want to stay out of my own way.

And should I never recover or improve, at least I know that I tried. At least I know I did my best, and I was willing to invest the effort even with minimal chance of reward. At this point, I must simply value the virtue of self-care for its own sake.

This leaves me feeling vulnerable, of course, but also open to whatever each day may bring. On a deep level, I can relax. By my former beliefs, I was overly responsible for the fate of this body. Now I know that there is a plan for me, but it is not of my making nor direction. I show up for each day and do my part. Beyond that, I must learn to trust. I trust that there is meaning in this journey, and that more will be revealed, day by day. With clearer vision from the loss of illusion, I await all that it may bring—its challenges, lessons and treasures.

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Thinkstock photo via Ivary

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