The Mighty Logo

Learning to Appreciate How My Body Works Instead of Focusing on My Chronic Pain

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

My long journey with fibromyalgia and chronic pain has left me in the anxious state of mistrusting my body. What will go wrong next? So many disparate malfunctions and pain syndromes have sprung up over the years, to settle in and stay just as long as they pleased. Sometimes new symptoms will clear up in a week or so, but all too often, pain settles in for months, years or perhaps permanently. Some of the various afflictions that have come on suddenly and lingered are carpal tunnel syndrome, tarsal tunnel syndrome (ankles instead of wrists), knee pain, back pain, digestive issues, hand pain, plantar fasciitis. Currently I’m dealing with nerve pain in my flank and hips that prevents me from sitting for any length of time.

All this leaves me in a state of constant vigilance, monitoring functionality and pain level. Will I be able to do what I need to do today? Will my current pain ever subside? What will go wrong next?

This past summer, due to bone spurs on the backs of my heels (Haglund’s deformity), open-backed sandals were the only footwear I could tolerate. The pain subsided, but as fall set in, I worried that wearing shoes would reignite it. But so far, by wearing only the softest, perfectly fitting shoes and boots, I have kept it at bay.

As I took a stroll in our local park the other day, I happened to notice that not only were my heels not hurting, but my feet were all-around comfortable: no ankle, arch or toe pain! I was grateful, and then as I focused on the sensation of my feet moving over the earth, carrying me along, rolling from heel to toe, lift and repeat, I was also amazed. Feet that work! Feet that don’t hurt – for today. Such a miracle. I became keenly aware of all that was required to have
this experience: the complex anatomical structure of the human foot, with its movements coordinated by precise signals from the brain, maintaining balance and moving this body across the soft grass.

This brought to mind the Psalm verse, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14)

Chronic pain causes the mind to zone in on what hurts. In doing this for so
long, I had stopped noticing what isn’t hurting, what is working just fine, for today. This is especially true of areas that once hurt, but are now recovered. I don’t consider them well; rather I am wary of the pain returning. This may occur, of course, but the experience in the park showed me that I can shift my mentality from one of trepidation to appreciation. I can appreciate all that works well in this body, especially those previous problem areas. I can be truly grateful for their current pain-free and functioning state.

So I have been practicing appreciating the miracle of this complex, elegant system of a body. I take daily note of what works well:

I can start with these hands. I’ve experienced flare-ups of hand and wrist pain such that typing was not possible. But today and for quite some time, these hands have been fine. Each morning when I awaken, I close and open my hands, reveling in their loose, comfortable movement, free from the stiffness of last year. Let me not take this for granted! I can type as much as I want (though I’ve learned to tap lightly), I can chop vegetables, lift a seven-pound dumbbell for exercise. Tendons, muscles, blood flow, nerve impulses – all work together gracefully, for today.

As I walk, I continue to marvel at my feet. I don’t know how long this pain-free interlude will last, but for today, I appreciate the function and joy of feet that feel…normal!

I sleep well most nights. My current pain usually does not interfere with my sleep. Past pain flare-ups have done so, and there were many years when I suffered insomnia from anxiety. I am grateful for peaceful sleep.

My digestion works well enough; its issues are manageable these days. I
appreciate this body’s ability to convert the delicious food I eat into nutrients and energy for the day.

I breathe freely. I have never had lung problems. But my dear cat suffers from asthma, which makes me appreciate the gift of easy breath.

I see and I hear. Sadly, my 99-year-old grandmother is losing much of
these senses. I say a prayer for her, and remind myself to appreciate all that I see and hear today.

I experience my share of brain fog, but I am grateful that, for the most part, this mind serves me well.

The list could be endless. So much of this body works perfectly well, or well enough.

Even within my current problem area – neuropathic pain in my butt and
hips – there is still much that operates well. The pain is with sitting and pressure. Without minimizing the distress and limitations of this condition, I can still appreciate that I do not have pain in the actual joints. I can stand and walk fairly comfortably.

This overview of my body also helps me to understand that it is doing the
best it can. For some reason, it believes that it must fire high level pain signals in response to any sitting pressure. Considering how complex the body-mind system is, it’s not surprising that some things go awry. I keep in mind that it is doing the best it can to attain some sort of equilibrium.

This is not an easy body to inhabit. But much of it does serve me well. For today, I will do my best to enjoy and appreciate all that works, and view with love and patience all that doesn’t. I am indeed fearfully and wonderfully made, and I give thanks for this.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Photo via fotiksonya on Getty Images

Originally published: December 9, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home