Like many people with chronic pain or illness, life is full of huge ups and downs for me. For the past few years, the cycle follows the same pattern time after time. Slow progress over several months is met by huge crashes that happen overnight when I overdo life. I hesitate to call these crashes “flares.” I will have flare ups in which my pain increases for several days or a week, but when I have these huge crashes, it is more like starting over again from the beginning. I don’t start to feel better after a day or a week. Months are needed to get back to baseline.
Six weeks after my most recent crash, I am slowly, ever so slowly, beginning to crawl to the surface. The progress happens so slowly that I can only see gains when I look far, far back. So, how can I tell that I am slowly coming out of a setback?
I start to take regular showers. This is probably my favorite part of coming out of a setback. This was one of my worst setbacks in that I felt horrible enough that I didn’t even care if I was showered. I found myself choosing between going to work and showering on several occasions, and going to work always won. Not my proudest moments! But at least I made it to work.
I start to get bored. When the pain starts to ease, I start to become bored. When the pain is severe enough, the thought of being bored never even crosses my mind. But, I reach this point where the pain has lessened to the point that I want to do things, but know I need to hold back to avoid another setback. It’s a really good sign when I start to feel bored. Now, to figure out what to do with that time!
Breakfast becomes part of my regular routine, not an item to be crossed off my to-do list. Every time I have a setback, I lose weight, without fail. I’m too tired and in too much pain to get up to cook. Eating doesn’t even sound appealing, and I only do it because I know I should. And this is coming from someone who LOVES food. Typically I love eating. It’s one of my favorite things to do. But, something about the pain makes eating feeling like a chore. When I start eating breakfast without thinking about it, I know I’m getting back on track.
I start to think about things other than how I am feeling. My mind will start to move away from how I am feeling, and I start to care about other things again. I start to care that we have eaten the same meal four nights in a row and that I haven’t left the house for anything but work, shopping, and church. I start to care that the house is a disaster. I start to think about the project I was working on that was left to the wayside in those weeks of merely surviving. I move from surviving to wanting to add things to my life that are meaningful and make me happy.
I begin to hope. Hope has been scarce around here these days. When I start to come out of a setback, I begin to see glimmers of hope again. I am not sure what hope is supposed to look like, as the thought of future setbacks loom over my head. How can I expect this time to be different when I have been unable to avoid setbacks every other time this far? But, the hope does resurface that maybe I will learn to better manage this pain and next time I will be able to avoid falling back this far.