Yeah I know what you’re going to say. You’re romanticising it Cat. What would you know? Well I’ve dealt with chronic pain since I was 21 years old. I spent years of my life in my early 20’s sick in bed only able to get out of bed one day a week. My friends were out partying, being young, having fun and all that jazz and I didn’t have the energy to even leave my bedroom after I’d got up and put on clothes.
I know it sounds stupid but it’s true. Chronic pain has made me a better person.
Chronic pain has made me; more humble, more empathetic, more grateful, more understanding, less blinded by irrelevant stuff, much stronger and more focussed.
You can’t slip permanently into the dark place of becoming your pain or illness. You give away your power and it’s hard to claw your way out of that place and it beats you down. Repeat after me, YOU ARE NOT YOUR PAIN!
YOU ARE NOT YOUR ILLNESS!
However it’s when you claw your way out of that place, you emerge stronger and with some pretty powerful insights as extra weapons on your tool belt… Of course I can be cranky and slip. In no way am I a noble and perfect pain warrior but you use your mental strength to not stay in that dark place for too long.
I spent years angry about it. Raging. Indignant. But that doesn’t help. There has to be some grace somewhere and with that new grace suddenly you’re freed up to think, “how will I tackle this now that everything is changed? How will I work with this?” rather than “It’s not fair, here’s the lists of all the things I can’t do now.” I went from being a young, healthy, full of energy 21 year old who’d just finished studying at uni full time and working every single day to BOOM someone with the energy of a sick 130 year old.
You have to use the power of your mind to never give up and to overcome. And that’s what chronic pain can be all about. A battleground of the mind and spirit.
You have to change how you think about suffering, set backs, fear and loneliness. You have to enter a new world of self understanding. You have to let go of stubbornly holding onto the old way of being and the old way of thinking when things have changed. You have to accept that “Okay things are different and I’m going to have to come up with a new plan now” rather than butting your head against your old plans; “I used to be able to do this!”
Chronic pain taught me how to think about pain differently, think outside the box and come up with creative solutions that no one else is using. Pain forces me to use my initiative in ways that now I’m grateful for.
How could I still help people and do the work I’m so passionate about and spent so many years training for so that I still get enough rest? How could I creatively design a life so I could work with my body rather than against it in balance rather than forced servitude?
Pain taught me to be aware of my body and be in tune with it in new and transformative ways. I listen to my body now. I used to ignore it when it had important messages for me and just force it to keep doing what I wanted it to do.
I’m learning to be kinder to myself. This is a lifelong journey.
My pain doesn’t define me. I define myself. Pain has helped refine what was already there.
My suffering does not define me.
I never would’ve worked for myself if it wasn’t for this pain. Choosing my own schedule and working hours has been key to thriving rather than just surviving. It means I can be more present for my clients and have more of myself to give. It means I am in charge of a balanced life and managing burn out.
Pain is a great teacher. It’s taught me to be a greater self advocate, to look after myself better so that in turn I can be more helpful and present for others. It helps me say no to social things I’m not well enough for when previously I’d bend over backwards never to disappoint anyone. Pain helped me cut through the people pleasing nonsense.
Pain helps me fine tune my priorities with razor sharpness. It forces you to adapt and change.
Pain keeps teaching me to stop comparing myself to others because that will only steal my joy.
Pain first taught me to find altered states of consciousness through meditation and creativity at the age of 21. I learnt how to use my mind to turn the focus off the pain and focus on pleasure and ecstatic states. When I was 22 I was sick of taking painkillers every single day, so I learnt about meditation and all sorts of skills that helped me relax and change the way I saw pain. I would experiment with breathing techniques that brought me pleasure whilst my body was in pain. I felt like a bit of a mad scientist playing and experimenting with new ways of being in my body that so often frustrated me. I may have been stuck in my bed for weeks, but in my mind I was travelling far and wide and harnessing the power of active imagination and visualisation. These are the skills I’m passionate about using with clients today.
Pain helps me to be the person I always wanted to be but thought I never had the time to become. Pain forced me to draw on an inner strength I never knew I had. Pain reminds me to let go of my ego and ask for help. Pain helps me let go.
Pain has made me not afraid of being on my own, not afraid of the darkness and not afraid of suffering.
Chronic pain has made me a better person.
I hope this helps you if you are dealing with pain.
Cat O Dowd