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How Life With Chronic Pain Taught Me to Be More Present

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This time last year while the world fell apart, I pulled myself together. As odd as it may seem, I thrived during the pandemic. I knew what it was like to shut down and isolate myself, so things shutting down and quarantining were, in many ways, familiar to me. I knew because I had experienced lows so low you withdraw from people, I would survive being away from people, even though it would be hard. It comforted me to know I would be OK. It also motivated me to be better than OK.

I started by clicking off the TV, tuning out the news and instead, getting up off the couch and putting myself into nature. I hiked everywhere without ever hopping into the car, exploring new places around my very home. I biked back roads and walked blocks around my small town. I went to the park, and yes, even enjoyed the swings there. I immersed myself in nature, music and exercise. I gradually built my stamina up to where I could run. I was on top of the world as best as I could be, concerning the circumstances for about three months, and then I crashed.

I’ve never fully recovered.

That thought and those memories of how healthy I felt keep catching me one year later. As I’m lying in bed, in pain and battling fatigue I just can’t believe, I’m reminded of when I felt better. It’s bittersweet to think on it. I am still proud of how I took my health into my own hands and thrived, but I know now how that turned out.

Sometimes, I naively think, “What if I try to do the same? Would I get another three months on top of the world, 90 days of feeling good, like the better version of myself? Would it be worth the gamble? Would I risk it?” I ask myself all these things and more as I reach that one-year mark, that anniversary of being on the top of world only to crash down and hit a real health low I’ve never seen.

I am working on myself. I have a treatment plan and am actively following it. I see my doctors, log my progress, and there is some, even if “progress” doesn’t translate into the things I could do even last year. It’s so hard to keep myself from breaking out in a full sprint like I used to. I tell myself walking is smarter and it’s fun, which I have always enjoyed. That’s true, but it’s hard to be in a body that won’t allow spontaneity without throwing a tantrum. It’s difficult to have limitations. It can feel like my body keeps my spirit in a prison of sorts.

I believed I would get better if I just went to a doctor. After all, I had crashed in the past and physically came back, I thought. What I did not know then was I wasn’t fully recovering. I was flaring. I was always in pain. But my tolerance is different from others because I have felt sick and in pain for years. Growing up, I was different; I just had no real clue I was or why.

My expectations had to adjust with an official diagnosis. I would have to learn better ways to adapt to take care of my body. I’m still learning how to listen to my pain and interpret it to best help myself.

Although it’s still a process for me, I’m on the road of trying to change my mindset when it comes to my health. Like my physical therapist told me last week, “We know we can’t take the pain away. It’s just not going to disappear. This is pain management now.” I’m on a journey of just managing as best as I can, but also enjoying myself when when enjoyment is offered.

This past weekend I enjoyed a short road trip and weekend away. The pain wasn’t my best friend, but in spite of it, I made wonderful memories and truly enjoyed myself. I listened to my body and it paid off. I rested when I could and because of that, I was able to be present. Understanding my limitations is huge for me. To enjoy my weekend, I couldn’t just go outside and go for a run, but I did move and exercise and took it easy and the payoff was a wonderful time with some of the amazing people in my life.

Try not to look at your limitations as limits, but rather guidelines. By following the guidelines, you help yourself reach your full potential in the moment. This is what I’m starting to understand.

Our bodies are complicated. It’s not always simple and easy to take care of them, but we try because it’s these bodies of ours that are our companions while we make memories, while we have fun and experience joy. Even in pain, I was able to look up at a night sky full of stars and get lost in its beauty. Maybe I needed someone there to block the cold wind with a huge hug or a chair to sit out by a fire to take it all in, but my goal was to be present and I was.

This year is different. It’s difficult to say I like it better when more constant pain comes with it. In many, many ways, it is though. I have had more joy already. I’m lucky and I’m learning life with pain isn’t the only thing I can feel.

Unsplash image by Priscilla du Preez

Originally published: April 3, 2021
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