Mountain tops inspire leaders but valleys mature them~Winston Churchill Some days I’m a mountain climber and then there are days like today…
I was going to start this post by saying, “When you have lived with chronic pain” and then explain how I dealt with it, but that would be insinuating that everyone who experiences this moves forward in the same way. That everyone who experiences this even gets to move forward.
It seems akin to saying, “When you are drowning” and then carrying on with a detailed description of the technique required for the breast stroke. When you’re suddenly thrown into the sea there is no technique or set plan, just a frantic need for survival; a desperate search for shore. I suppose some people are able to pull themselves together and breast stroke but there are others that muddle through doing the dog paddle, some that just thrash wildly through the waves and others who float aimlessly until the current sweeps them up and takes them for a ride that eventually washes them back to the beach. Of course there are also those who succumb and disappear in the deep, never to be seen again.
But before I get too morose, let me just say this is my story of chronic pain. This is my desperate attempt to get to shore any way I could.
Even in highschool I can remember feeling overwhelmed. Like life was an adversary in a fight I was too weak to win. I was always exhausted. I battled with… depression? Anxiety? Shame? I’m not sure exactly, but I can tell you later, as an adult, I was diagnosed with postpartum and medicated for a while before I became pregnant with my second child. I’m not sure if the medication worked or not. Not because I can’t remember if I’ve ever been happy. I have been. I work my TAIL off looking for light and searching for silver linings. To practice gratitude. To be happy. I often succeed, I’m just not sure it’s supposed to be this hard.
I have this knowledge that weighs on me, that if I stop swimming, if I stop fighting the waves, I’ll sink.
So no resting, no island oasis as a half way point, just a never ending attempt to reach a shoreline I can’t see. I’m not even sure what it looks like anymore and sometimes I wonder if the shoreline is even real, or just a mirage on a never ending horizon.
When I went to the doctor a second time, I was told that of course I was tired, it was normal. I had 3 small children and parenting is exhausting. I’m sure I could have pushed for medication but I had gone there hoping for a diagnosis. An examination that would confirm an actual illness that I could treat; not a pain killer for what she had just described as normal.
The kids grew, and the excuse of late night feeding and early rising toddlers dissipated in the sun, and I dragged myself back to the doctor still struggling and exhausted.
This time it was normal because I was nearing 40 and metabolisms change and had I considered exercising?
I hadn’t. Mostly because half the time it was a battle of will just to get out of bed and deal with the life that was banging down my door in the shape of a busy household to run and a job that I had to show up for. I simply didn’t have it in me to plan a good offense. I didn’t go out and actively grab anything by the shirt tails- not friendships, not quality time with my husband and certainly not a gym membership. Still, I left the doctor’s office with the impression that I just had to work harder. So I did. Shame and feeling inadequate can be a powerful motivator. Luckily if you spend enough time practicing something you start getting pretty good at it. With several years under my belt, I got stronger and became a half decent swimmer.
Then a storm started rolling in. Pain, and eventually, that diagnosis that I had been searching for. A disease we could identify; an opponent I could fight. We threw medication at it like bombs but I never imagined that I had waged a war that would last close to 4 years.
I don’t think any soldier understands what they are walking into as they cross enemy lines and when they return there are no words to describe what they have seen or what they have been through. All I can tell you, is aside from the physical toll there is this emotional cost I never anticipated. A gut wrenching twisting that spins you around until you’re dizzy and not sure which way is up. An undertow invisible from the surface, but deadly none the less. When you survive, you know it’s because you fought as hard as you could, and never let your guard down.
So I’m sent home. The doctor assures me this is it. The foe has been defeated and the cost was only a handful of internal organs. I need to rest and give my wounds time to heal. So here I am. Exhausted and not allowed to swim. I look in the mirror and see the pale face and wide eyed stare of desperation and I’m literally gasping for breath as the tide rolls in.
If I complain, if I go to the doctor, I know I will be told that this too is normal. I’m still reeling from a long and bloody battle. I just survived a major surgery. I need time to heal. Be patient, be still. I recognize the truth but can barely hear it over the wild beating of my heart.
I suppose I could tell you that when you have dealt with chronic pain you just try to get to shore, but maybe we’re all trying to get there in our own way. When I’m in the water, no matter how tired I am, no matter how dark the night, I have to keep swimming to keep from going under. But now I need to be still. And I’m sinking.
So if anybody has a life preserver
I’ll be here,
holding my breath,
trying to keep my head above water