Oh the Dangerous Dance we Dance: The Many Confusing Paradoxes of Chronic Pain

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Oh the paradoxes of chronic pain. I am trying to figure them out. We toe the line between fighting and waiting, planning and spontaneity, restricting and indulging, hoping and accepting.

We are dancing a truly dangerous dance. One wrong step, and someone is bound to get hurt.

To Fight it through or Wait it Out?

I’m currently in a slight flare (not the horrible 3 month kind, more like the semi-horrible 2 week kind). And my current question is the age-old question of to push through or to rest? I’m trying to push through more because sometimes it has wonderful results! Sometimes I feel so much better after pushing through. Oh but then there is that other 50% of the time that I push through and end up cursing my past self for thinking pushing through could ever be a good idea.

Why oh why? And what oh what is the right answer? I’m pretty sure I shall never find out and I will dance this fine line of madness for the rest of my chronic pain days.

The Confusing Conclusion: Pushing through has led to my most horrible relapses, but it is also a huge part of what brought me out of those relapses. Oh the confusion.

To Plan ahead or Be Spontaneous? 

For awhile, I thought that scheduling my activities ahead of time was serving me well. I could look at my calendar and carefully space out all the things that I needed and wanted to achieve each week. But my body plays tricks on me. Each day is different than the other. If I am lucky, I can merely increase my chances of being able to accomplish something if I plan it ahead of time and space it away from my other activities. It leads to about a 50% success rate.

And when I look at that poor level of success, I start to wonder, should I really just be more spontaneous, doing things when I feel well enough and seeing what happens? But alas, that has about a 50-50 chance of ending poorly because I often cannot trust how I feel. Sometimes I feel great one minute, and five minutes later I am falling to pieces because yesterday I did something, so surely I should not be so stupid as to think my body can do another something today.

Confusing Conclusion: Planning ahead has a 50% success rate, and spontaneity has a 50-50 chance of going well or ending poorly. Oh wait? Guess it really doesn’t matter what I do or how I decide things so I should really just throw a penny in the air to make all my important decisions. 

To Restrict or Indulge? 

Now this is an interesting question. For myself, I am mostly thinking of diets that are supposed to help heal our bodies, but I am certain it applies to other areas as well.

Option 1: We eliminate every single unhealthy indulgence that would give us any semblance of pleasure in our state of pain. We say no to gluten, preservatives, sulfates, meat, dairy, processed foods, oil, sugar, and everything that tastes good. We subject ourselves to the most restrictive diets possible, rejecting momentary pleasures and fleeting happiness. We hope that our current restraints will lead to improvements for the future.

I couldn’t tell you the success percentages on this option. It really is a day to day thing if I think my gluten free, vegan diet is helping me or not. And then the question, of how far do we take this? Should I become a fat-free, gluten-free, sugar-free vegan, I wonder? A raw foodist?? Exist on plant juices and chia seeds? And if I give up all these things, will it actually improve my symptoms and quality of life, or will it just ensure that I live 10 years longer than I really want to in this body that is still wracked with pain?

Option 2: We eat more of what we want more often, and do a happy dance of deliciousness!

Confusing Conclusion: This one you literally can’t win. Because whatever you choose to do, you will wish you chose the opposite. And when you choose the opposite, you will kick yourself for not sticking to your guns. This is a lose-lose situation, folks! 

To Hope or Accept? 

Ahhh the ever-present question of positivity. Hope is so so dangerous. I have hoped so many times in the past, and it makes the crash into the oblivion of pain that much harder, that much more devastating.

Do we fix our eyes on the future, hoping above all hopes that we will crawl out of the most recent relapse, flare, or setback into remission, fuller functioning, or even a cure?

Or do we focus on accepting our pain in the moment. Knowing this is where we are for now, and we are up to the task.

Confusing Conclusion: This conclusion is less confusing. I think I have it figured out. We seek to do both at the same time, hoping yet remaining present. Clinging to the possibility of a better future, but knowing we have the strength to be “ok” even if the pain doesn’t go away.

What paradoxes of chronic pain or illness confuse you the most?



  1. This is an excellent post. I feel like you got inside my head and read my thoughts! Balance and expectations are difficult for everyone, even people who don’t suffer with chronic health issues and it helps me to remember this so that I am not as hard on myself. I’ll be thinking about this post for some time to come.

  2. I so feel for you as I have lived through these questions in my head for so many years . I try to live day by day , as planning and spontaneous is not an option. I suppose I have accepted and learnt how to cope . Wishing you all the best

  3. Great post. I don’t have a chronic illness, but I can still relate. I especially like your statement “will it just ensure that I live 10 years longer than I really want to in this body that is still wracked with pain?” As a chaplain to a retirement community, I used to hear similar sentiments.

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