At 11-years-old my education in pain began after a muscle injury in my neck. As I grew older I would learn about many kinds of pain, but my first lesson was on muscle pain. The second lesson was on the pain of sadness and grief. Pain began to diminish my ability to perform my normal daily routine and school activities. As I celebrated birthdays, I also learned more about what caused my pain and the reasons it didn’t go away.
Pain is a tough thing. It can’t be seen, but it can be consuming. It is distracting and frustrating. It can produce anxiety. The sadness in relations to pain can be consuming. The loss of function, the loss of care-free living and even the loss of identity can send us into hiding. I learned early on to focus on the pain so I could get over it more quickly in order to function. This focus turned into frantic anxiety over being “okay” as I got older.
By the time I had arrived at 12-years-old, my acute pain (pain that recovers within a reasonable time period) began to turn into chronic, or long lasting, pain. My muscle pain had grown to nerve pain. Another injury occurred to my jaw and my pain spread from my neck to my jaw.
It is often said if we talk about our weaknesses, we will always have something to talk about. I could talk about pain and attempt to manage it all day long. I am turning 40 next month and my life has been marked most by my pain and who I have become because of my pain, the pain which has become my daily companion for the past 29 years.
This year, 2022, we will talk about excellence in all areas of our lives, but I believe in order to get to those places we have to acknowledge our companions. For some of us, it’s emotional, for example, anxiety and fear. For other of us, it’s something physical, for example, pain or disability. There are many other kinds of companions all at once.
So, what does excellence look like when our companions seem louder than who we want to be on some or most days? If I have learned anything in 29-years, excellence is the choice to be kind to myself. I’m not great at the practice. On paper for me it looks like this:
- Give grace to myself to breath and be still a little longer
- Get out of bed every day, even when its the hardest thing for me
- Drink lots of water
- Quiet the mind and surrender the anxiety (for me, surrender is at the feet of Jesus)
- Move enough to loosen up and get the mind off the pain
- Eat healthy foods
- Don’t overdo the pain medications
- Plan the day so there will be energy to be patient with my family later when I’m too tired
- Let go of what doesn’t need to happen today
- Ask for help (health professional, family, friend)
Pain doesn’t need to win. You may need to rest all day, so make that your plan. Rest or movement may be the best kindness you can give yourself. Empower yourself to know that is the choice you are making. Not giving the pain the power over your mind will give you more courage and strength to keep making great decisions for yourself.
Chronic pain can give leave to overdoing it on the pain medications or the substances of choice to numb out. These habits can become addictions, even when we never had that intention. Sure, maybe that’s not you, but taking a close look at our pain management strategies every once in a while is just as important as the pain management itself. Just “one more” can cause drastic harm to you or the people you love. Be honest with the medical and mental health professionals in your life. When light is shed on what we have kept hidden, it helps take the power away from the shame. Pain doesn’t need to own us and neither does the management of it.
Let’s be excellent in how we take care of ourselves. We will have a greater ability to care for others once we take care of ourselves.
Here is to 2022!