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When Chronic Pain and Mental Illness Makes It Hard to Trust Myself

My health makes things hard sometimes. With chronic pain, depression and anxiety, it can be hard to enjoy the things I love. It can be hard to get out of bed or move the way I wish I could. The combination of chronic pain and mental illness affects most parts of my life.

It affects my relationships and my work. It makes simple things difficult and difficult things overwhelming, sometimes. My health makes it hard for me to predict the future and what I might (or might not) be up for doing. But the hardest thing is when my health makes it hard to trust myself.

1. I don’t know if I’m overreacting.

Is the pain really this bad? Doesn’t everyone else feel like this? They seem to be managing just fine.

2. I don’t know if I’m being flaky or genuinely can’t do something.

Am I genuinely depressed or am I just incredibly lazy? Is this fatigue or an excuse?

3. I’m not sure if what I’m feeling is real or something that only lives in my brain chemistry.

It can be hard to tell if I really need rest and healing, or if it would make me feel better to get myself moving and get things done.

It’s hard to trust because my brain chemistry is making things feel very different from what they are. I’ve learned not to rely on my inner narratives about external situations because they are often false. As it turns out, not all my friends hate me for that awkward thing I said at a party two years ago. In reality, I am not a gigantic failure simply because I received one rejection to something I really wanted. I’ve learned not to trust those stories my brain tells me.

But when my brain and body tell me that everything hurts, that’s when things get tricky. Do I trust that or not? Do I rely on what I feel or not?

How can I trust myself when my brain is always lying to me?

Unfortunately, I don’t have an easy answer. Sometimes, I don’t trust myself and I call myself lazy (or worse) and I try to power through the way it looks like everyone else is powering through. Of course, when I try, I often stumble or fall apart completely. Or, I wreck my energy and collapse at the end of the day. I fall into burnout or overwhelm.

If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic has given me a real sense of how we are all just barely managing. Take away some of those daily life pleasures and outlets for our rage, creativity, joy and connection, and we all start to fall apart. Pull one thread in this precarious safety net, and we all fall.

For a year now, I have been witnessing extremely capable people completely lose their composure (and perhaps their “marbles”) in this legitimately, objectively stressful pandemic/election/economic collapse year. I don’t want this for them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not happy about this either. I am in deep grief for everything we have lost.

Yet. It has, in a weird way, restored my trust in myself. I can now believe myself because I am seeing it reflected back to me in real-time by people who, by all accounts, are trustworthy narrators.

Yes, being human can be so very difficult.

Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash

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