One profound realization with chronic pain and chronic illness is that you are caught by all the what ifs. What would your world look like had you been healthy and capable of all the things you had desired in your life? Because the life of chronic pain is littered with compromises. I have been chronically ill since I was young and I learned by experience I could not do any sort of physical work. I went to University because I had this one goal: find a career I was passionate about. Under the assumption that chronic pain limits my body but not my mind. However, pain gets worse and it does affect your entire life. Memory, mood, concentration and well-being. I compromised and curtailed my academic career when the pain had spiked up because I understood it was too intense for the ambitions I had. For a very long time I struggled insanely hard to hold onto an alternative career. Until recently I was told in clear terms I was simply incapable of even working full time. Compromises. So many compromises. So many goals and ambitions restricted.
They are necessary compromises. Not choices. So that is what makes it, ultimately, difficult to swallow. If you chose to not work or to decrease your work hours, this would be a joyful and pleasant event. Knowing you must is entirely different. Also so much of our self-worth is attached to what we do for some odd reason. One must adjust their entire identity when they stop working or change to work some part-time job due to their health. Just as they do when they retire or semi-retire… it can be difficult to adjust to the change even though it is a natural course of events.
I have an immense struggle with the issue to be honest. My self-worth has taken a hit. I loathe the idea my financial stability will suffer as a result of my health. I am one of those people that takes a lot of comfort from financial stability. I also enjoy intellectual stimulation but I do have hobbies that supplement that thankfully. I can fill the void in my life with my hobbies as well, so there is that. Nevertheless I feel I am not ‘productive’ enough. That I am somehow failing as a functional human being with an illness people cannot see and therefore will be judged for it. We all desire to contribute. We all have ambitions and goals. I have simply never accepted my health has been an obstacle I cannot overcome. However, I have come to comprehend I have not been successful in the workforce. Pushing through the pain is something those of us with chronic pain are forced to do, but it is by no means a very productive way to handle pain. In the long run, it fails. Pain needs to be managed. Management means exercise, medication, meditation and so many more things… but also, often, work restrictions of various kinds.
I get it.
But I do not like it.
However, nor do I like suffering unrelenting pain at work that cannot be resolved causing me to miss too much work. That never works out well. Ever. I always think ‘If I can just get though the pain until this or that specialist appointment they will Do something.’ But what? There is no miracle pill. There is nothing but a lot of exercise and physio, more pain and careful management. And not exceeding your limits. I excel at exceeding my limits and then really regretting that choice. Yet feeling that society expects it of me. And then feeling I am failing because it never works to push beyond your limits… it causes much more pain. I am rationally capable of understanding this, yet did it over and over to hold onto a career I was unable to function at. Taking medical leave after medical leave. So clearly it was not working for me.
I can imagine how profoundly different my life would be without this endless onslaught of pain. However, it is a useless mental exercise. What it does is make me feel guilty for the existence I must find a way to thrive in. What ifs are not a healthy place to live in. They are a figment of our imaginations. They are for our creative pursuits. For our characters and alternate realities. Not for me. This is the only life I have.