Counting Down to the New Year is a series of 12 posts in which I reflect on 2014 and prepare for 2015. I am skipping number 10 (top 10 posts) to post at the actual end of the year.
Chronic pain is a harsh teacher. It is not the teacher I would choose if I had the choice. But it certainly is effective – if you suffer from chronic pain, you will learn things whether you want to or not!
It helps to celebrate the good in the world, other peoples’ accomplishments and not just our own. This past year held its share of disappointments, confusions and heartbreaks. My own life and the lives of many close to me were filled with more sorrow than joy, more heartbreak than triumph and success. Partway through the year I found myself looking, actively looking, for the good. And at a certain point it moved far beyond my own list of blessings to the good things that were happening around me. When my own list of success and good felt short, I was able to find good outside my own limited vision and experience. I was happy with and for the friend who had a baby. Another friend found a greatly needed job. The happy, screaming children in the playground right outside. The woman who walks her dogs, always with a smile on her face. It helps to find the good in the world, and remember that all may not be well, but good can still be found in this world, in this lifetime.
Sometime God gives just enough strength for each day as it comes. I don’t even know how I made it through work during the past one and half months of constant flare. I would look at my schedule for the week and wonder how in the world I would make it through. I would want strength to make it through that whole week in that moment, but sometimes strength is something that God provides in the moment, just when you need it. Not too soon, but not too late. So often we are encouraged to live in the moment. More and more, I am learning what this actually means. It is not easy. It does not come naturally. But, when you take steps in that direction it brings about a sense of peace and calm. Sometimes the obligations of the week are overwhelming, but if I can focus on just making it through the next five minutes, somehow I always manage.
Clearly explaining, accepting help, and working with health limits is better than guilt and apologies. Socializing is so difficult with chronic pain. We all know how difficult it is to explain limitations, how our abilities shift with each day, each hour. And so I am learning to explain as best I can. I am learning to speak my limitations and what I need, even if the person won’t understand why or might wonder if it is actually that bad. And so I just speak my needs without apology. “I would love to come to breakfast on Saturday, but only if I can buy and not make whatever I bring.” Or, “I can come over if you have somewhere for me to lie down during the movie.” “I would love to hang out. Would you come to my place so I can be more comfortable?” “I can’t decide ahead of time, but I will come to the party if I am feeling ok. Can I let you know a few hours before?” I am only just starting to do this, but it is making the difference.
A great deal can be accomplished in 2-5 minute spurts throughout the day. Have something important to accomplish during the day, but aren’t sure if you can manage it? This year I learned how to break big tasks up into small and manageable steps. I fold three items of laundry each time I go into the bedroom. I do one small step towards making dinner each time I walk into the kitchen. If I need to walk from room A to room B for some reason, I first think if any items in room A need to be moved to room B while I am already on the way. It’s about working smarter instead of harder, breaking big tasks up into manageable chunks, and recognizing that 5 minutes over the course of the day can add up to a great deal accomplished.
Staying productive is important, and “no TV before 5:00PM” is a helpful rule. I have written about staying productive before, and I can’t emphasize how important I think it is. Of course there will be days when you simply can’t manage to do anything, but as much as you are able, you must move forward within the wise boundaries of your limitations. How do I help myself do this? I eliminate watching TV from my schedule until the evening. Once again, of course there are exceptions to this on my bad days. But, as much as I am able I do whatever I can to be productive during the day, and my mood and my health thank me.
Amazon Prime is a lifesaver for individuals who struggle with their health. Have you checked out Amazon Prime yet? You pay a set yearly fee and then get free two-day shipping on a large variety of products. I buy all sorts of food, paper products, toiletries, and random items online and get it free of shipping two days later. Christmas presents, our Christmas tree, exercise equipment, Advil, etc… and so on. I save so many shopping trips, and so much precious energy, by doing this.
Eating a mostly vegan, anti-inflammatory diet is worth the trouble. You can check out the anti-inflammatory diet that I follow fairly strictly. It has helped, and I definitely notice a difference when I follow it compared to days I take a break (such as over Thanksgiving for example). While this particular diet may not be the right one for you, it is so worth looking into the food that you eat, and considering what make you feel better. Saying no to a few bites of fleeting pleasure is worth the improvements you may feel in your health.
Meditating on the reality of Heaven and life after death changes perspectives on everything. Heaven does exist, and when you truly believe this, it changes life now. If you believe that life here is not the end all, the struggles and sufferings of this world begin to soften. If you believe that a better day will come, it is easier to persevere, look for meaning, and endure the less-than-better days. If you believe that you will one day have a fully functioning body, it lessens the blows of this life’s limitations. To believe and know the God who brings everlasting life, who makes the reality of heaven a possibility for you, changes everything.
Giving certain things up can add to your life and make it fuller, but certain things are worth holding on too with everything you have left. Perhaps there are things you are desperately holding on to. Things that you just can’t imagine giving up. Things you can’t imagine eliminating from your life, because you would lose so much were it not there. But sometimes giving things up means gain. Sometimes eliminating aspects of life will allow you to live a fuller life. Sometimes giving up that thing you are desperately holding on to will make your life better, easier, less stressful, and lead to great healing. I gave up my almost full-time job this year. It was a huge and heartbreaking loss. But in the end, my life was better without it. I left behind my job, but with it went huge amounts of stress, exhaustion, and pain.
But some things are worth holding on to. The tricky part is knowing the difference. It is hard to know the difference between things that must be left and things you must hold on to. I gave up my full-time job, but for now, I will hold on to my part-time job with everything that I have. Some months I barely drag myself to work. Some months I have no idea how I make it through, but I have decided it is worth it for now. With everything that I have, I will hold on to this job, because I don’t want my whole life to be taken by my pain. There may come a day when this will change. There may come a day when I would have to make the decision of giving this up, but for now I will hold on with everything I have left.
What has chronic pain taught you this year?