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How Chronic Pain Has Changed My Relationships

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Like so many of us with chronic pain, I have become quite isolated. I am not able to get out and casually socialize. I miss the days of sitting in a coffee shop, amid the bustle of humanity. I no longer attend movies, events or meetings of any sort. I cannot travel. I no longer see acquaintances, and have lost a good number of friends.

These are real and profound losses, and I grieve them. I miss the life I had, and it’s easy to feel that this journey has been one of unmitigated loss regarding relationships. But it occurred to me recently that this is not true. There have also been gains, which I had been overlooking or taking for granted.

My few remaining relationships have actually grown stronger. Initially, my health condition was a source of stress and conflict between my husband and me. But having moved past this phase, we now both feel and express more love. I have softened and no longer have the energy for petty discord. And with the awareness of mortality brought about by health challenges, I appreciate and cherish our life together as never before. My husband, for his part, has responded with more patience and support.

My friendships are sweeter and deeper, too, partly for the same reason. I’m no longer triggered by minor aggravations. And I feel a strong need to be honest and real. My guard is down; I’ve been humbled and I no longer have an image to uphold or defend. I have minimal interest in small talk; I tend to delve deep. But to my relief, my intensity and melancholy have not driven away my closest friends. As I have become more open, they have responded in kind.

I once expressed to a friend how difficult it must be to listen to my continual woes. He made the interesting point that my troubles give us much to explore, and help him to feel needed. He mentioned that he and another friend had recently drifted apart because they are currently both too free of problems! They have nothing compelling to discuss. The element of emotional intensity and the opportunity to encourage and support each other was missing. This helped me to see that need is often what brings people together and strengthens their bond.

My relationship with another friend who has been in pain and disabled for most of his life has deepened, too, since I’ve developed chronic pain myself. We haven’t seen each other for more than two years due to our home-bound status, but we speak by phone about once a month. We had much in common before, but now even more so.

I used to visit my grandmother who lives a few hours away twice a year. I felt such regret when I became unable to make this trip. So I began sending her a card and calling every week. Although our conversations are always short and casual (she can’t hear well), surprisingly, over time, this regular contact has blossomed into something very special. We give each other courage and strength, and we always say, “I love you,” breaking from a family tradition of repressed sentiments.

These are examples of the mutual relationships in my life that have deepened. But as one of my favorite spiritual gurus, Byron Katie, says, “It only takes one person to have a relationship.” Regardless of whether the feeling is reciprocated, I am always free to love. I find that my attitude and behavior toward strangers has become more genuine and friendly. I am so very grateful that I am still able to grocery shop. For me, it’s an adventure just to be out. So I always have a smile for my fellow shoppers, the clerks and employees. It’s of no matter whether it is acknowledged or reciprocated, but it usually is. I have been transformed from a customer lost in her own thoughts and concerns to one who’s engaged and lights up a few faces with each trip.

And there’s you, my Mighty community. You are not abstract beings to me. You are my fellow warriors! Each of you has a harrowing story and phenomenal amounts of wisdom and strength. Thank you for reading my story and reflections, and for sharing the same, or simply lending your quiet support. You are all precious to me.

Nor must I discount my relationship with myself. I can no longer afford self-criticism or judgment. Some of these thought patterns run deep, and won’t simply dissipate upon a wish. But when I see them arise, I challenge them – and they never have a good defense. I deserve my own love and support, and will take measures to provide it. I am my primary caretaker, after all.

Finally, my relationship with Spirit has deepened immensely. This is reflected in various ways. Sometimes I visualize guides or angels around me, or I journal, pray or talk with God. I also feel a deeper connection with my ancestors, who have endured the difficulty of life ending and the adventure of crossing over. And so I have come ever more to feel the presence of Spirit around and within me. This is a vital source of strength. Sometimes it’s all that gets me up in the morning – trusting I am here for a reason and will be guided through the day.

So my relationships and social life have certainly changed since the onset of chronic pain, and it’s easy to succumb to the view that it’s all become worse, that it’s been only a journey of loss. I do miss the greater variety of interactions I once had, but I also cherish the deeper relationships I’ve developed. All in all, I would have to conclude that though there are fewer people in my life these days, there is more love, both given and received. I am not adrift; I am not alone. Relationships change as life changes, but
nothing can truly undermine our souls’ inherent interconnection and the myriad ways that manifests. Nothing can stop the flow of love. I only need take a moment to see it, to feel it – to be it.

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Thinkstock photo via ElenaMichaylova.

Originally published: November 14, 2017
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