For years now I’ve had a theory that chronic pain will do one of two things to a person- slowly kill them or change them into a stronger person than they ever knew was possible. By chronic pain I mean any pain that doesn’t go away and impairs your ability to function normally, including emotional pain. Because pain is a constant reminder that something is wrong in your body it is incredibly hard to ignore. Even when you are consciously distracting yourself from it, pain will hang out just under your conscious thoughts, waiting to be recognized again. My theory follows the logic that since pain is so noisy and takes up so much space, it forces change. This part isn’t under your control, only your response to it is.
Of course there are a myriad of responses you could choose, perhaps you could try on acceptance, something that most professionals in the medical world would promote. “People who accept their pain live better with it,” is something I’ve heard time and again and every time I hear it I think, “Yes. but…” I understand the logic behind this sentiment but sadly for me it fails every time. I just can’t get behind the idea that living with severe pain is an acceptable thing, ever. But it is my reality so regardless of whether I choose to accept it, pain is part of my life. I could let my pain control my every action, and only do “pain-friendly,” activities, being careful not to push myself. But that doesn’t work for me either, because I happen to love pushing my body, and if I stopped doing that I would quickly lose my joy. When it comes to living with chronic pain, all -or-nothing thinking is where I go every time.
I’ve known people who willingly took their own lives because the pain they woke up to every day was more than they could handle and I’ve had moments when I wondered whether the pain I live with was just too much for one body. Day after day, year after year, pain can make you feel like you’ve lost yourself. But then I remember all of the things that I love about being here, and I have to admit that my pain hasn’t prevented me from feeling joy or being excited about life. Instead, living with pain has propelled me to a life of purpose. My pain has made me more introspective than I otherwise would have been, since it keeps me alone a lot, and this has given me more insight than I otherwise would have had. It led me to a career in health-care, since my pain made me want to help ease the suffering of others, and once that career was no longer possible, it led me to writing, more of a passion than a career. And it led me to teaching others what I’ve learned, so that my hard lessons can be easier for others.
Are there days when I can’t be as strong as I want to? Yes, many of them. I have to make the choice to continue moving forward despite pain, and on a regular basis, I give myself a hall pass to just get through the day. Because part of my purpose is self- care, I’ve found that by taking care of myself in a way that helps me to live well, I inspire others to do the same.
So, despite all the suffering pain brings, It’s also given me a new way to live. For everything pain has taken from me, it has given back ideas, wisdom, and activities I otherwise would never have known. Pain has brought me to purpose, and this has made me strong. What is your pain to purpose story?