Today I am having more pain at an earlier hour than is normal for me, and it’s tough to take.
I was in a car accident about 11 years ago that left me physically and psychologically broken for months, and in both cases, I am still working to get clear of all the damage. I still have nightmares about it, and I still feel anxious when I get near the spot where it happened, but by far the most problematic is the fact that I still have daily chronic pain and it has profound effects on who I have become. Some days I try to ignore it, and more often than not I am forced to power through things when I would much rather just go to bed and hope that I can fall asleep, because sleeping seems to be the only time my body is rested enough to mostly let go of the things that increase my pain.
But really, what this means is that I have had to become a different person than I used to be, and that I have had to learn the skills required to deal with chronic pain.
What chronic pain means to me:
It means that I often have to let down the people that I love, and I have had to learn how to do that without breaking relationships, and how to trust the relationships where this actually works.
It means that I am not always able to do even the most simple things, and I have to rely on the help of others to get through a relatively normal day. This is made much easier than it was in the past by services like instacart and doordash, but for things that I cannot purchase someone’s time and assistance, I have to rely on friends, and it took some effort to become comfortable with that. I still struggle sometimes.
It means that I often have to be patient with myself in ways that some people can’t seem to understand, despite my gift for metaphor and patience, and I have to accept that some people will choose to not try to understand, and that may change how we relate to each other.
It means that I know that for some portion of the day – usually towards the late afternoon/evening – I am going to be in pain and it will make everything more difficult for me.
It means that patience is the most important trait I can cultivate in myself. I have to resist the urge to snap at people every day. I have to try to see the ‘bright side’ in every situation, because I have a readily available default answer which is isolating and unacceptable.
It means that I will occasionally find myself at the mercy of others, whether I want to be or not.
It means that I have to accept help for things that I feel very strongly like I should be able to do for myself.
It makes it difficult to remain in control in some situations, and impossible in others. It means that I have to be okay with the pain sometimes controlling me, and to anticipate those events and prepare for them in advance so as not to become a burden to the people who love me.
It requires that I maintain constant vigil over the other forces that bend my will: anxiety and depression, because these are reinforced and made more disruptive by pain.
It means that I will never be able to do everything that I could have before this affected me, but that I might be on a different (and possibly better) trajectory as a result.
It makes me more compassionate, because I know what it is like to have to contend with everything written above.
It makes me more patient with others, because I know what it means to be patient with oneself, and I understand many of the struggles that lead people to behave in a way that tests my patience.
It encourages me to be kind, because others have been kind to me when I found it hard to be kind to anyone.
It requires me to be mindful at times when I might be content to let my attention drift instead.
It gives me physical tics that betray my discomfort.
It makes it hard to form close friendships, because people who can understand and compensate for all of the above are rare and difficult to find. I am blessed to have found many with which to surround myself, and I keep constant attention towards the goal of gathering more.
This is how I stay sane in the face of daily crippling pain. This is who I am as a result. I am very different from the man I was just a few years ago, but I am better for it and generally happier than I have been in a very long time, with occasional bouts of introspection when it hits me harder than I am accustomed.