Do you ever feel like your whole world becomes wrapped up in a tunnel vision of pain?
It’s easy for this to happen. Sometimes it’s inevitable. Sometimes the pain takes such a hold that life is consumed by pain whether you want it to be or not.
In those seasons, I don’t want my suffering to become my identity, but it is so much a part of who I am that it can start to take over.
Or let me put it this way…
My pain isn’t who I am, but it controls what I can do, and in this world, what you can do is a huge measure of who you are.
I have been thinking about that a lot lately, because I’ve had a few weeks of reprieve. December and January were not good months. February was a little better. March allowed me to turn a corner. Physical therapy exercises that I did last fall are finally becoming possible again. Making it to work isn’t quite as difficult. On my days off I have more energy to cook and clean and even do something I enjoy.
With the physical relief comes so much mental and emotional relief. I can distance myself from thoughts of my health. This is a huge blessing. It means my pain is calm enough that I can push thoughts of it to the side. It means I can focus my energy on finding normal life. And sometimes, normal life is pure bliss.
On Friday I cooked a delicious spaghetti squash recipe, and on Sunday I cooked a new Asian meal that was the most complicated recipe I have attempted in years.
I’ve been writing posts for my new counseling blog, and they have nothing to do with chronic pain.
I’ve been doing extra reading and listening to some lectures that have absolutely nothing to do with health or wellness or my chronic pain blog.
Saturday I went to the grocery store for a few extra ingredients that didn’t come with my weekly delivery.
I stopped at Dunkin Donuts on the way home from work to grab some donuts for my husband.
Last week I cleaned my microwave. This is a big deal, people.
As I think back on the last few weeks, I realize I have done more “normal” things than I have in months. It feels good.
It makes me want to infuse as much normal life into my days as I possibly can. It also makes me think heavily about chronic pain and what it does to our identity, how chronic pain can become so all-consuming that it is impossible to think about anything else.
This is never more clear to me than in these precious days and weeks, even months, of reprieve.
Times of reprieve bring clarity for me. They are always times of reflection. I start to do two things: hold on to normal, and process all the abnormal that happened between the last reprieve and now.
This is the question I am pondering. During those times when pain affects every area of your life, how can you avoid mixing that pain up with the essence of who you are?
How can something so all-consuming not affect your identity?
I can, of course, point out that our identity is found in something so much bigger than our physical bodies. I can, of course, point out that our identity rests in Christ. It can’t be taken away. Who we are is not measured by the state of our bodies or the schedule of our days. Who we are is set in stone. His child. Accepted. Not condemned. Image bearers of God.
But it is our physical bodies that allow us to live out who we are. We aren’t human without our bodies. And when our bodies break…it certainly feels like our identity and the physical foundation that allows us to create meaning in life has been distorted.
I think of those times when pushing thoughts of the pain to the side isn’t possible. Pain bleeds into the cracks of everyday life. Things that are quite abnormal start to feel normal. Pain changes you. Sometimes for better, and sometimes for worse.
Deep down inside, we remain the same person, but the pain brings us into another version of ourselves. Perhaps more sanctified. Perhaps more bitter.
I wonder if it is the process of bringing normalcy into our lives that helps us hold on to that person deep down inside that God created us to be. We don’t let the pain become our identity by holding on to those other aspects of our personality and temperament and interests and gifts and purpose that make us who we are.
We look for normal. Right now, right where we are.
It’s easier said than done. It’s easier said right now than when I am in a flare. One thing I am pondering is how we might take mental breaks from the pain, even when a physical break is not possible.
Perhaps taking a mental break means having a vacation from appointments and looking for a diagnosis. It might mean doing something you want to do, even though you know you will suffer the consequences. It might mean resting today more than you think you should, so you can do something tomorrow.
Normal things don’t have to be big things. Normal might mean savoring a small piece of chocolate, or making yourself a cup of tea. Normal could mean finding a small online freelance project, so you can use those skills that have been put to the side for so long.
It could mean taking a break from reading about your condition or interacting in online chronic pain communities. It could mean choosing to not mention your pain or health over the next week, and only having conversations about other things.
What do you think? How do you find normal? What helps you? How do you keep pain from becoming your identity, when pain inevitably defines huge aspects of your life? How do you sort through all of this?
I have more questions than answers. But I know for sure that right now I am holding onto all the normal I can get. I am holding on to who I am at my very core, even if I can’t live out who I am in the ways that I want.
I am holding onto this truth.
Pain has changed me, but it can only define me if I let it.