I learned my first lesson in chronic pain at the age of thirteen. I discovered pain causes an emotional rollercoaster where the smallest thing on a random day can cause a person to reach their emotional limit, yet big things on other days may not. It all comes down to the word ‘chronic.’
I’m right-handed, but after a back-to-back sprain and performing arts injury, I lost the use of my right hand for a full three months. Countless doctor visits later, I started three months of therapy to get the use of my hand back. In the grand scheme of life it may not sound like long, but to a teen, it felt like an eternity. Even now, my hand is still not fully functional, but it works as a great barometer of a coming weather change….
During those dark months, I learned the lesson of the chronic pain rollercoaster. Days where I could joke about writing left-handed and days where doctors didn’t believe I had a problem. Now migraine dominates the chronic pain issue for me, but the lesson is no less true. And I do believe it is true of each one who suffers from chronic pain or illness.
Imagine one’s soul is a gas tank. A driver fills up the tank with gas, drives the car until it’s empty. Simple. However, when a person experiences chronic pain, it’s as if there is a hole in the gas line. Some days that hole is bigger than other days, but that hole exists nonetheless.
Other people see this driver driving around town like normal, but the driver knows the gas is running out faster than in non-chronic cars. In no time, the gas has been used up and the driver must call a tow or pull into a rest stop to recharge. This happens much more frequently because of that leak, which gets tiring after a while. We all love the idea of driving for miles and miles without needing to stop. It’s just not possible for those with chronic illness.
So why doesn’t the driver just fix the leak? Someone with chronic pain does not enjoy living this way, so they have likely tried everything they could to feel better. Often there is no easy answer, no pill to pop, no surgery to solve the problem. Sometimes, the body fights itself so there is no way to repair what is broken. Dealing with chronic issues means learning to live with that hole in the gas line.
Managing life while making more frequent rest stops gets tiring, especially on one’s spirit. It drains the soul. Then one day, something, perhaps as small as a stubbed toe, is the last straw and the soul car breaks down. A good cry. A friendly talk. Or even just a good night sleep. And perhaps the driver is back on the road as cheerful as ever. Other times it takes a bit more recovery.
This is the rollercoaster that is the life of someone who lives in chronic pain – or with any chronic disease, visible or invisible, physical or psychological. What gets us through is the love and support of those closest to us. Sometimes the kind word from an understanding stranger. Or perhaps our spiritual beliefs.
Most importantly, for those who do suffer from chronic ailments, it helps to know we are not alone. The gas tank will empty and need refilling, for some more quickly than others. In those moments, lean on those around you and know that a brighter day and fuller gas tank is just around the corner.
I learned that lesson years ago, but I still have to remind myself of it each time my body needs a pit stop. Especially when the hard times come thick and fast so that it’s hard to see above the forest, I try to take a moment to dwell on the good things in my life, even just simple things like the sound of water lapping the shore or a green light. It reminds me that, though it may take a while, the sun always comes back out.
What are ways you are encouraged during the low times?