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17 Positives That Have Grown Out of My 17 Years With Chronic Pain

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Tomorrow is a dark “anniversary” for me.  As of tomorrow, I will have lived with a severe form of chronic pain for 17 years. It will be 17 years since I lost my ability to take a single awake breath without an awareness of the constant pain I live with or to move my body easily and freely the way I once could.
September is Pain Awareness Month, and I’ve read some good articles about chronic pain, including the negative impact chronic pain has on a person’s life in a way that is hard to understand unless you’ve walked in these shoes. I’d be the first to agree it is hard. It’s a condition I’d never wish on any person, ever. It’s not something I would ever have chosen for my life. Like most people I had big dreams for my life, and chronic pain has been a thief that has stolen and/or rearranged many of my dreams. I’m not happy about living with chronic pain.

However, in every situation in our lives, I believe we have the opportunities to see the positives alongside the hardships. We all have a choice to choose joy in the circumstances, whatever they may be. And so, as I sit on the eve of my 17th year with a condition I never would have chosen but is nonetheless part of my existence, I choose joy. And I choose gratitude. And I choose to seek out the positives that have come in my life out of this most challenging situation.

1. An iron will. Having to fight so hard for 17 years has made me iron-strong. My body may struggle but my spirit has become strong. Every day that I’ve had to fight against the pain, every time I’ve had to self-advocate or fight against the stigma that can accompany a chronic pain diagnosis, every time I’ve had to choose joy in the darkness and a spirit of light even when my body is in agony… that has made me strong. Every time I’ve had to face another loss, be it my chosen career as a physical therapist
or the ability to easily speak, walk, drive, and be independent in the way I wish I could be… that has developed in me a spirit of iron and a drive to never give up. Ever.

2. Resilience. I know what it is like to face loss after loss for 17 years. And yet, again, we all have a
choice to be joyful. I can choose hopelessness or I can choose to keep facing each day with hope and a determination to eke out whatever joy can be found.

3. Self-advocacy. I’ve had to learn to become a self-advocate in a way that other people may not have had to. I was never a child who could stand up for herself, but as an adult I can do that very easily. I’ve learned to stand up for myself in a way that is positive and not harsh, using a diplomatic, gentle manner that nonetheless fights for my rights in a way that helps others increase their understanding.

4. Empathy. I used to be pretty self-focused, unaware of the hurts and needs of others. Living day in and day out with a medical condition that has caused me to struggle and physically suffer has opened my eyes to those around me. I’ve learned that we all struggle in some ways in our lives, and I hope that my own experiences have developed within me deep compassion for others.

5. Peace. As a child and young adult I lived with high levels of anxiety. As I sought out various alternative treatments for my chronic pain over the years, I came across novel solutions that have brought me to a place of peace. Things like deep breathing, relaxation, reshaping my thoughts, and reading about novel philosophies have taught me how to relax my mind, body, and spirit.  Peace is now my way of life.

6. My relationships. I used to be a highly competitive person and my relationships reflected this.  Through my 17-year battle, I’ve relaxed my standards for myself and become much more accepting of the people around me.  My aim is to be gentler and more loving.

7. Self-acceptance. I used to be incredibly hard on myself. I still try to set high standards, but to an
extent I’ve learned to give myself a pass when I don’t measure up or succeed in the way I want to.

8. A new understanding of failure. Likewise, I used to fear failure as the worst of enemies. Living in a body that simply cannot do all the things I want it to do or to experience has caused me to fail at various stages in my life, teaching me that failure is OK. It’s not to be feared, it’s part of life, and it can be a conduit to further learning, growth and maybe even success.

9. Gentleness. My own failures and struggles have taught me the importance of gentleness, not just with myself but with others.

10. Figuring out my strengths. Having faced so much failure and loss has surprisingly shone a bright light on my strengths. For example, although verbal communication is a challenge for me, written communication is an area of strength.  Writing has not only opened doors for me, but has allowed me the ability to communicate well to others what it is like to live with chronic pain, be an adoptive mom, and live a life of joy in the face of difficulties.

11. Creativity.  I’ve had to become creative to an extreme level these past years. Chronic pain has taught me to seek out novel solutions to difficult problems and this creativity has translated into other areas of my life. I have become, over the years, a solution seeker.

12. My kids. Because of my condition, having children the regular way was not an option. However, this opened up an amazing pathway six years ago to adopt a beautiful then-10-year-old daughter who has been the light of my life. And, last week another wonderful surprise happened! My daughter’s older biological brother moved into our family and it is an incredible gift to have him join our nest.

13. The gift of modeling to my kids every single day how to get up despite struggles and do what one can to live a good, positive life. My kids live with disabilities and challenges, and I hope that as they see me daily strive to live well despite my own disabilities and challenges that they witness a strong example that stays with them all their lives.

14. An enhanced ability to advocate for my kids and to access needed disability-related supports for them based on the advocacy skills my own journey has taught me.

15. Humility. My ego has been knocked down many times through this experience and that is not
necessarily a bad thing. I’ve learned that I don’t have to be the best at things and that my inner confidence can remain unbroken even in the face of my weaknesses or what I perceive to be the judgement of others. I’ve come to know deeply who I am, and to love myself for the woman I believe God has made me to be, flaws and challenges and all.

16.  Experiencing true kindness of others and the creation of a strong support system. I’ve
had so many people bless my life with kindness, from a team at my church who have brought me a meal every single week for the past several months; to my husband who has loved me faithfully for many years despite the challenges; to friends and family who have walked alongside me on my journey with great compassion; to my caring home care nurse with whom I’ve forged a special bond.

17. A realization that life is an incredibly precious and wonderful gift. While I would do anything to regain what I’ve lost, at the same time the losses of some of my abilities and activities have taught me to utterly cherish what I still have. I don’t think one can walk through the deepest of darkness without developing an appreciation for how wonderful light is. Going through very difficult circumstances for 17 years has opened my eyes and created an awareness in my spirit of just how precious life is and how lucky and blessed we all are to live in such a wonderful world.

Originally published: September 7, 2016
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