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Why I Watch the Sunrise as a Person With Chronic Pain

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If you follow me on Instagram, you would see a lot of pictures of sunrises. Before I got sick, watching the sunrise used to be a fun challenge. I have always been a morning person, but suddenly the sunrise was an incentive to be outside early. I would Instagram pictures of the sunrise after a morning run at 6 a.m. on a 2℉ day in January. I would Instagram the sunrise from the top of a mountain after waking up at 3 a.m. to drive half an hour then hike two miles to the summit by 5. The sunrise was a beautiful reward for waking up and getting something done before most people were out of bed.

Since I’ve been sick, I hadn’t posted a picture of the sunrise. I certainly don’t run anymore, or if I do it’s at the end of the day so I’m not in pain all day. I don’t make an effort to get out of bed early because I’m exhausted by noon anyway, so why make that earlier? I’ve been trying to conserve my energy just to make it through the work day, let alone have time to enjoy myself after.

But this week, I’ve been waking up at 5 to such terrible pain in my joints that I can’t go back to sleep. The first few mornings I tried staying in bed but the pain was too intense I was afraid I would wake up my roommate by crying.
Recently, I’ve been getting out of bed. I’ve been walking down the block to watch the sunrise over the lake. And it’s amazing. It’s so beautiful and peaceful. It’s just me and the birds watching the day begin.

sunrise over the lake
The sunrise this morning

I’ve struggled to accept the limitations of my illness, especially the pain and fatigue. I’m constantly wishing I could call doctors and make them give me a new solution or reschedule appointments to see them sooner. I’m emailing my mentor describing my progress (or lack thereof) just hoping for a new suggestion. I’m fighting it constantly. But during the sunrise, I can’t fight it. No doctors’ offices are open, nobody checks their email. For a few hours, nothing can get done.

So even though I’m in pain which I can’t do anything about, I can still make a choice to live my life. I may not be able to Instagram the sunrise from the top of a mountain or after a five-mile run, but I can still watch the sunrise. Maybe I’ll have to go home and sleep for a few hours or at least take a lot of ibuprofen, but that doesn’t take away the beauty and the peace I was lucky enough to witness this morning. The sunrise isn’t about proving to the world that I got up before them or that I accomplished more than they will today. Because that probably isn’t true. The sunrise is a reminder that even after a difficult night, the sun will always rise. It’s a way to start the day seeing the beauty in the world instead of the challenges.

As Hugh Jackman sings in “The Greatest Showman,” “But you would finally live a little, finally laugh a little.” Today, I hope you find a way to live a little, a way to laugh a little. A way to remember that the world is still beautiful even when you’re struggling. And, if you happen to be awake early, I hope you go outside and watch the sunrise.

Originally published: August 6, 2018
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