It's just one of those days...Limp Bizkit reference, anyone?
Have you ever had one of those days...or decades...where absolutely nothing works out the way you diligently and meticulously intended it to? Hi, my name is Christina! The chain of events that have unfolded in my life over the past 3 months not only seems contrived for the sake of good storytelling but manufactured in the hopes of evoking massive amounts of sympathy from newborn babies. At the risk of sounding like a martyr, it's hard to believe that I'm not an apocalyptic Biblical figure or some tragic Shakespearean heroine penned for sheer entertainment purpose. Okay, okay... perhaps it sounds a tad...martyr-ish. Contrived for the sake of good storytelling? In all actuality, even the O.J Simpson jury wouldn't believe such a well-crafted defense. The truth of the matter is, the details, though ridiculous, aren't all that important. Well, that was a pretty anti-climatic. I promise, my intention isn't to taunt you...my intention is to relate to you. Sounds like a really bad pickup line, eh?
As a decade-long chronic pain sufferer, I can bet most of my earthly possessions that you know down to the very last, exasperated, mumbling "You've GOT to be kidding me?!" plea to the Universe moment in the final act of your Shakespearean "trage-day" (see what I did there?), exactly what I'm talking about. To others, chronic pain sufferers seem to have a "black cloud" of dramatic bad luck eternally assigned to our existence. To those of us in CP, you can...do I dare say...relate?
Verbally communicating the day-to-day complexities of living life in chronic pain can be painstakingly difficult. Even our loved ones who compassionately witness our plight on a regular basis, will occasionally make a suggestion, ask a question or construct a statement that makes our head tilt faster than a puppy hearing a training whistle for the first time. It becomes so frustrating, that I can't help but find myself often daydreaming from time to time as to how I can drive the point home to anyone who doesn't suffer in daily pain. Upon much thought, I concluded that the description needs to embody an overwhelming disconnect between mind and body and a task that seems simple enough to complete but includes several, unexpected, illogical obstacles. An effective description has to eventually evoke feelings of confusion, frustration, exhaustion, anxiety, physical pain...eh, and we may as well throw in emotional anguish like helplessness and embarrassment for good measure.
Remember the '80's? Lie and just say you do so I don't feel so old. There was this kids show on the Nickelodeon channel, named Double Dare. An oversimplified explanation of the game show for those of you... unfamiliar...or who have agreed to lie for the sake of my ego, is that teams were responsible for answering trivia and completing obstacle courses after being "Double Dare challenged." The obstacle courses were laced with messy, slippery roadblocks that made them almost impossible to complete. Hum. Sounds familiar?
So the next time you try to express to someone what it's like to attempt activities of daily living (ADL) with chronic pain ask them to take a "Double Dare challenge." What? Am I late for work again? I couldn't pick up the kids from school again? The laundry isn't done again? We're ordering take-out again? I'm cranky and snippy again? Yea? You try doing this day with nothing but a toothpick, a baggie full of shaving cream and a tricycle with no seat... and one pedal. Naked. Hey, it's my daydream.
Relaying the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual difficulties we suffer every day with has been something we have all daydreamed about -perhaps yours isn't as graphic as mine, but nonetheless, we have all thought of ways in which to describe our realities...because they DO seem so ridiculous at times.
But why does it seem so important? I think it's because we're looking for 3 things:
We want others to experience the pain we're in, not because we wish them ill but because we want others to understand that sometimes, our lives feel like a rigged game show. A bit of advice...you may want to steer clear of my "Double Dare challenge" method, and use a more realistic comparison like, The Spoon Theory, which I happen to love. Perhaps then, if they can see and feel what it's really like...they'll understand our behaviors, emotions, reactions, and inactions.
We want to relay what we are feeling in both mind and body because we no longer feel like a valuable teammate - to our spouses or partners, our employers, our children, our families and friends...and ourselves. Our lives now revolve around our limitations, not our contributions. We miss who we once were, and all the things we used to be able to do so easily. We're grieving the people and the lives we once had. So, we push ourselves. Hard. Constantly aiming to have a "normal day" and missing the target by a mile. We can't help feeling as though we are incurring karmic debt, an exes voodoo spell or God's wrath - and nothing can feel more isolating than being singled out and bullied by life.
We want...to be accepted. Loved. Understood. Consoled. Validated. On our good days. On our bad days. And...on our "wtf days."
Regardless of our ability to effectively relay how we feel, or why we're trying to do so, the fact of the matter is, our "bad" days are amplified.
Here's the ugly truth. Doing "life" is harder in chronic pain or with a chronic illness. It just is. Our minds, bodies, and spirits are overworked, overstressed, oversensitized, overstimulated and overwhelmed naturally subjecting us to a heightened state of vulnerability.
Life is already physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually draining but now, consider the following mathematical equation: Add up your surgical recoveries, medications that make you feel as though you're walking through quicksand, sleepless nights from pain and/or depression symptoms, tension in most of your relationships, financial strain and a growing, unfinished task list. Then, multiply your insecurities, inefficiencies, and inabilities. Finally, divide by one of life's daily absurdities - a speeding ticket, a bad day at work, a sick child that needs to be picked up from school... you've got a probability theory on your hands that seems impossible to solve. Awesome. Now what?
Give up? Accept the permanent black cloud that is hanging over your head? Stick your fingers in your ears, screaming "la-la-la, this isn't happening!"? Lower your expectations so when something goes right you're pleasantly surprised? Find someone else to do your math homework?
I'll save you some time - I've tried them all...and they're each completely ineffective. Here's the answer: Get to know who the new you is...and then...learn to like that person. Like that person enough to respect them. Like that person enough to be good to them. Like that person enough to be proud of them. Like that person enough to show compassion, forgiveness, mercy, and tolerance...especially when the sh*t hits the fan.
We didn't choose chronic pain but we choose our experience with chronic pain. This is an extremely hard perspective to grasp.
The days...or decades we don't accept that we have changed and our lives have changed as a result of our pain and/or illness, will end in you feeling as though you've been "Double Dare challenged" to life. The more we resist or ignore our new reality (however "new" it may be) the more frustrated, bitter, burdensome, anxious and depressed we feel.
The longer we yearn for our past, the longer we remain grieving. The longer we focus on the "unfair" hand we were dealt, the longer our "see! I am just cursed" tally list becomes. The longer we hate our bodies, the weaker they become. The longer we emotionally tear ourselves down, the more we teach others to treat us the way we treat ourselves. The longer we set ourselves up for failure by setting unattainable goals and expectations for ourselves, focusing on negativity and allowing ourselves to feel victimized, the longer we choose our own suffering.
Remember when I said that we want to be accepted? Loved? Understood? Consoled? Validated? On our good days. On our bad days. And...on our "wtf days." It starts with you. And once you get comfortable with tolerating yourself, liking yourself, respecting yourself...loving yourself...your "wtf days" won't always seem as catastrophic. Why? Because you're making allowances for being imperfect, for being vulnerable, for being fragile, for being...human.
There isn't one person on earth who came into this world knowing what was going on, who knows the answers as to why things happen, who knows "how to do this life" or knows how the story ends....even if they allow their ego to make them appear as if they do. So, let go of your fear of inadequacy, your fear of imperfection, your fear of rejection, your fear of disappointment, your fear of failure...take the pressure off of yourself. Life cannot be done perfectly, by anyone.
Chronic pain is a crash course in humility and as Ernest Hemingway once said, "there is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self."
Most of your "bad days" can be as good or bad as you see them to be. You're late when you used to be 15-minutes early? You're not MVP at work anymore? You sleep in when you used to rise early? You can't be supermom attending every basketball, baseball, swimming and tennis lesson your child plays in? Your laundry is piling up? Dinner was presented in a fast-food bag?
I'm not suggesting you accept mediocre for your life just because you are in chronic pain or have a chronic illness - however, I am suggesting that you redefine your definition of success. You change your perspective about yourself - about what constitutes a truly "bad day" - and then, keep it moving - accepting that the imperfect you on your imperfect days, is, perfect after all. And you know what? Others will believe it too.
Christina H Chororos is the founder of Kairos Chronic Pain Coaching. Additionally, she is a certified Integrative Wellness Life Coach and has been a chronic pain sufferer since 2008. Christina established KCPC to help other chronic pain sufferers help let go of the life they exist in to create a new life worth living. To find out more, please visit https://www.kairoschronicpain.com