Yes, I decided to tackle a more sensitive one today. Some of you may remember my post on illness awhile back. Part of what comes with the illness is chronic, progressive pain, and I wanted to share my experience. Pain’s a tricky thing, and I’ve found that controlling pain entails using and involving my mind. I’m not talking about detaching from the body or moving to a different consciousness or anything like that. I’m talking about a realistic, gritty, everyday experience. If my mind’s not engaged and where it needs to be, I might as well give up.

Managing pain for the first few years of the disease was always haphazard. Sometimes I was able to get it under control, and sometimes I wasn’t.  It got significantly worse as the years went on, and I was in college when I received the diagnosis.

At that point, I was worn down emotionally and physically, and I entered a defeatist state of mind and focused on comfort only. This meant staying in bed if I was feeling poorly and doing whatever I could to make myself feel better. I acknowledged the fact that my life would be unalterably different than it was before. Acceptance came easily to me, but I never once considered my quality of life.

In order to make things more bearable, I did little things that made me feel better. Never once did I push myself. Food was a physical, tangible thing that I could enjoy, so I ate whatever I wanted to at the moment. All of the different treatments I was on gave me a larger appetite…but the weight is another story, one some of you have heard before.

I got to the point where I had to take walks to combat side effects from one of the medicines I was on (which I quit taking after two and a half months). It shocked me how little energy and tolerance I had. Walking around the block was a challenge and caused a lot of pain in my joints. Slowly, I built up to where I could go to the gym and get on one of the sitting bikes (not the kind you lean over) and just pedal slowly while I studied. I even worked out on the elliptical a few times on good days!

Even though I was pushing myself at this time, I still had a mental block, where I viewed my life as sub-par and like I could never be truly valuable or useful. It wasn’t the pain that was holding me back; I was holding myself back. The turning point mentally happened when I read Goodkind’s Faith of the Fallen a year ago. One of the protagonists, Kahlan, is badly injured and can’t be healed by magic because of a curse that was put on her. She’s in terrible pain and spends her time resting in bed, until Richard, her husband, pretends he’s left for the day, forcing her to get up to get water and food. He wanted to prove to her that she could get out of bed.

Kahlan was joyous to be out of the bed and that helped her to ignore the pain. The world was again a wondrous place…As much as she liked the snug home, going outside felt like finally being freed from a dungeon. Before, Richard had frequently offered to take her outside for the day, but she had never wanted to leave her bed, fearing the pain. She realized that because she was so sick, her thinking had slowly become dull and foggy. Along with her summer, she had for a time lost herself. Now, long at last, she felt clearheaded.

The pain is every bit as bad as it used to be (sometimes worse), but I’ve shifted from pursuing comfort at all costs to pursuing health and a good quality of life. Resting in bed wasn’t living. I certainly felt more comfortable, but it wasn’t a price that I was willing to pay.

Now, two years later, I can do so much more than I was able to before. It still hurts and probably isn’t impressive compared to what an average person can do, but my lifestyle has improved in ways I never thought it would. I am even going to nursing school for a BSN, which is something I had given up on because I thought it would be too physically strenuous. I had resigned myself to going for an RN at a community college or not doing it at all! We’ll see how well I can handle two 12 hour clinical shifts a week… I’m not worried about it now, because that is another battle to fight. Right now, I’ll enjoy my victory.