What Survival Mode Means in My Life With Chronic Pain
Most of the time, I can control my emotions when it comes to my chronic illness. At other times, I want to scream. It’s a complicated life. Life with a chronic illness feels like a Blue Monday, coupled with being run over by a truck every day.
Last week, I experienced what was probably one of my worst flares since I was diagnosed. The pain seared through every joint in my body, and it felt like being stabbed by a thousand knives. It was at that moment that I lost what I call my “mask.” My mask can be described as the face I put up when I’m in severe pain, but in front of people at the same time. I tend to smile and pretend that everything is OK, when I’m actually dying on the inside. I don’t tell people that I’m in pain because I don’t want to hear their unsolicited medical advice or snake oil remedies that never really work.
But last week, I lost it. I burst out in tears, frustrated because I’m in pain and I don’t have the words to describe it. Irritated, because people insist that I stretch because that “will cure your pain.” I completely lost it. I then realized that chronic pain is like a type of survival mode for me.
Survival mode means you’re just holding on, while wishing you were dead because the pain is so severe and you don’t feel like holding on anymore. Survival mode is panic attacks where it feels like you can’t breathe because you don’t know how to keep calm anymore. Survival mode is going for days without sleep because of pain and still acting like everything is OK. Survival mode is accepting that pain is your normal. It keeps me sane, knowing that living in a certain amount of pain every day isn’t something to be scared of. Survival mode is being brave, but at the same time fearing for your life every single day.
Losing my mask, the only defense mechanism I have against people’s insulting comments, has made me realize it is OK to sometimes show you are vulnerable. We are all human. I also realized that just because you cry in front of other people, doesn’t mean that you’re not brave.
Survival mode is my way of dealing with a medically complicated life. I have so many medical appointments every month, and showing one flinch of fear in front of a doctor isn’t going to get me anywhere. I survive and I stay strong, not because I’m scared of dying, but because I have no choice.
Chronic illness has ingrained in me a type of strength that I never thought I would ever have. Survival mode is my strength. It keeps me going.
I may lose hope because my symptoms get so severe that I struggle to function. My depression may be crushing at times, but I’m alive. Survival mode means that I’m alive and thriving. Chronic illness has been my biggest challenge, but it has also been an incredible teacher. I keep on going and striving to live the best life I can live.
Chronic illness has taught me that I can live a medically complicated life and still be happy. My rheumatoid arthritis may have spread to my knees and I don’t know how severe the damage is, but I’m stronger than I was before. I may have low blood counts and bruises because of my medication, but I am happy. I’m happy to be alive.
That’s what survival mode means to me. It means I can be alive and happy, and medically complicated at the same time.
Getty image by Juli-Julia.