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4 Useful Things I Have Had to Learn From Chronic Pain

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My chronic pain started out of the blue one Thursday morning more than seven years ago. A lot has happened over the last few years, from major back surgery followed by months in bed, to regaining then re-losing a career, plus all the normal dramas of family life. I am not quite sure exactly where or who I am at the moment, but I am sure that I am not the same person I was before this all started, and that not all my progress has been for the worse. It is beyond cheesy to say that it has been a “journey” but it is true nonetheless.

Here are the four things I have had to learn or accept:

1. Worrying is even more pointless than I realized.

I have had endometriosis since my late teens and had several laparoscopies, and so I spent a long time justifiably concerned that I would struggle to have children. Not once in my 20s did I ever worry about my back, and not once did I think that a science teacher with a degree from Oxford would struggle for employment, however arrogant that may sound.

In the event, both of my children arrived fairly easily, thank goodness, but my pain makes it very unlikely that I will ever have a full-time job again. I did get back to teaching for a year after I had rods put in my back, and it was great, but then my non-fused vertebrae developed problems, so here I am with a body well in advance of my 40-something years.

In addition, three years ago we relocated for my husband’s job, and we may well have to again. After all that, who knows what may happen over the next 10 years? I don’t. I can’t honestly say I have achieved a totally Zen attitude, and will freely acknowledge that anti-depressants have greatly helped, but I accept the premise of the wonderful musical Avenue Q that: “Everything in life is only for now.”

2. You will never please everybody.

Like everyone else with chronic pain issues, I cancel things a lot. I do my best to explain. Some people are lovely about it, some people take it personally, some people give me the very strong impression that they think I’m exaggerating about the whole thing.

As a lifelong people-pleaser I would naturally prefer to feel that everyone understands, but it is hugely freeing to accept that a lot of people never will, no matter what I do. I was very hurt by the behavior of various people until I realized that it does, really, say far more about them, and therefore I need not care about their opinions. Someone I find annoying de-friended me on Facebook recently, and where once I would have found this concerning, I was just slightly amused and very relieved.

3. Most things have two sides.

This probably comes with age as much as experience of pain, and will be familiar to anyone who has listened to both sides of a break-up, but everything does have an up and a down side. My lack of income has implications for my family: my back kicked off six months after I left work to concentrate on being a mum, but it was never supposed to be forever, and I was so happy to be back teaching for a while.

Yet the kids have liked me spending more time at home than we ever planned. Even if I haven’t been well enough for outside activities with them, we’ve had games and cuddles aplenty in my bed. And, much as I would have liked to demonstrate a strong female role model to them in terms of employment – Mummy used to do the same thing as Daddy, you know! – they will hopefully have seen that life sometimes hands you nasty surprises but you have to keep going.

4. I have recaptured the part of me that likes its own company.

At the end of my 20s, I lived on my own and I liked it. Then I taught in a boarding school, and met my husband, and had kids, and was very rarely on my own. Now, apart from some occasional tutoring and coffees with friends, I spend a lot of time alone. There are still times when this makes me lonely, especially when I wanted to do something or see someone but am stuck in bed. However, on a lesser-pain day when I can spend the time as I wish, I love it. I rediscovered how much I like to read, and to write, and I can garden (very slowly while spending ages to get up!) and there’s always a good box set.

I am not saying for a moment that I would wish chronic pain on my worst enemy, but as with anything big that happens to you, you learn to adjust. Blaise Pascal said that: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” For better or worse, that is something I have had to learn how to do.

Originally published: September 9, 2018
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