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10 Things I've Learned From Living With Chronic Pain

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I’m going to start with a story, my story I guess you could call it. To put what I’ve learnt into perspective and hopefully help someone just like me.

I was told I had a chronic illness at the age of 18. That’s the official diagnosis date, but I’ve dealt with the symptoms for much longer. I’m nearly 22 and the doctors still can’t decide if I have fibromyalgia or not, so for now, I have chronic pain.

My education suffered, I lost friends and became distant from my family. I could deal with a few bad grades here and there. No one can be good at everything right?

Then along came my A-levels…and more unexplained aches and pains, joints deciding to dislocate for practically no reason at all, fatigue, illness. I failed biology in my first year, and although I passed the other two subjects I’d taken, my school wasn’t happy to let me continue into the second year until I’d completely passed the first.

So off I went to redo the whole of the previous year, and that didn’t really help my mental state at the time. I was already feeling low about all the hospital tests I was having to go through, and the fact I was in emergency room almost every other week. I had to walk with crutches a lot of the time and I was already the girl who was always ill, always hobbling around the school. I really didn’t need to be the girl who got sent back a year too.

I had to watch my friends complete their second year, get their places at university and move away to other cities to better themselves. Through social media I watched them make new friends, go out and enjoy their lives and be independent. All while I was still desperately trying to pull my studies together and do well enough to get into my second year of sixth form. Don’t take this the wrong way, of course I was happy for them, but you can’t blame me for comparing myself to them and wondering what I’d done wrong.

Eventually, a year behind everyone else and a hell of a lot of hard work later, I got my place at university. Finally, I thought I could move on, have a really great time and start seeing my friends again.

Of course that didn’t happen.

With all my friends being in their second year of university they had less free time, they didn’t want to meet up, and after months of trying to keep up, I lost contact with them. For me that was really hard, I’d known them all since year seven. We’d always been together.

I struggled through my first year of university, I found that with my health I didn’t want to go out drinking late into the night, I was always tired. I didn’t make many friends. The people I lived with in halls thought I was weird by always choosing to stay in and read a book rather than go out and get blind drunk. I was miserable living there and I spent all my time wishing I could move back home to my mum and dad.

I did make one really good friend though, she lived in another flat in the block I was in. So, much to the disgust of my existing flatmates, I moved into her flat. I was much happier there, and my new flatmates were good people.

I met my boyfriend in first year too.

My second year was easier, I’d accepted who I was and I was happy with where I was going, my grades were better than I thought they’d be which was a bonus. I lived alone, although my boyfriend stayed over a lot, and that helped me. It allowed me to develop as a person and work out what I wanted from life. He helped me see that I wasn’t weird for hating going out, or for needing to take a nap during the day sometimes. He helped me see who I was, and be who I wanted to be. He always says I’m the strongest woman he knows, but I wouldn’t be this way without his help.

Now in my third year my grades are the best they’ve ever been, and I live with my boyfriend in a nice house just outside the city. I couldn’t be happier.

I made contact with my friends again and we make effort to see each other often.

Of course I still have my down days. Who doesn’t? This isn’t a fairytale where suddenly everything’s fixed and I’m cured. I’ve accepted that I’ll never be cured. I’ve been told that enough times by doctors, but I’m learning how to live my best life, and thats magical.

So what have I learnt from all that?

1. I am not a victim of my illness. I’m a fighter. I can cope with things not many other people can, and that’s made me a better person than I ever hoped to be.

2. It’s OK if you need a little more time than others to get where you want to be.

3. You are allowed to admit you’re feeling down. You’re not weak for doing so. In fact, it takes more strength to say, “I’m not OK,” than to cover it up.

4. Do what’s best for you. In the end you have to look after yourself, it doesn’t matter what other people think.

“…those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” – Bernard M. Baruch

5. Friends come and go. The people that are meant to be in your life will always find a way back in.

6. People care about you. They want you to be OK and to do well, don’t shut them out. Be honest with them.

7. Talk about it. I tell people when I’m having a bad day and then they understand that I’m not being funny with them.

8. If you’re having a bad day, take some time to yourself. Turn your phone off, get a bath, read a book. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

9. Find joy in small victories. Day to day life isn’t always easy for people with chronic illness. For me washing up all the plates in the sink is a victory, making the bed makes me feel better, hanging clothes up is huge for me.

10. You’re allowed to ask for help. No one will think less of you for asking them to help you.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Thinkstock Image By: heckmannoleg

Originally published: April 22, 2017
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