Guest post by Sheryl from A Chronic Voice
My partner massaged shampoo into my hair as I hunched over in the bathtub, shivering with pain. His finger movements were awkward but gentle, which made it all the more endearing. The pain was unbearable, yet I had insisted on a shower as feeling clean grants me a sense of wellness. I wept my eyes red and whined without inhibition before he tucked me into bed like a child. This isn’t an unusual event for many of us who live with chronic pain.
Happiness and Pain Can Co-exist
I suffer from a number of chronic illnesses whose names sound like tongue twisters. Antiphospholipid Syndrome. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. Sjögren’s Syndrome. Paroxysmal Supraventricular Tachycardia. I have an annuloplasty band for a heart valve, and epilepsy is the easiest, except that it isn’t. This excludes surgeries I’ve had such as Tenosynovectomy and for Cervical Squamous Intraepithelial Neoplasia 3 (yes I had to Google that as well).
The worst part about living with them for me is their unpredictable nature. I could be having a great day, only to be in immense pain the next. It is difficult to find joy in this union that I didn’t ask for, and which I’m unable to divorce. Your body becomes a filthy jail cell, and you can’t go very far. It feels like a life sentence for an innocent victim. But if this is for the rest of my life, then I have no choice but to search for joy within it. Happiness and pain can co-exist, although such a concept confuses our rigid society. We like for things to be black and white because it is easier that way.
The Joy that Writing Brings
One of the activities that brings me joy is writing. On certain days it can be a struggle, as brain fog shields access to the complete repository of my thoughts. It takes ten times the amount of effort to think. Vocabulary and theories that I know become a mystery, an answer without a bridge. It makes me feel stupid.
But I sit and write because writing is my personal panacea for all ills. While the pain isn’t diminished, it helps me to untangle the conglomerated strands wrapped around my thoughts. Every little bit counts. It not only relieves some of the psychological pressure, but I experience a shot of delight whenever I discover a silver strand. Writing is cathartic and nourishing at the same time, which is yet another paradox. It is a well of inspiration without external stimulation, filtered over my lifetime.
The Inspiration from Travelling
Travelling is another activity that brings me joy by refreshing my perspective of life. Observing the normal, everyday lives of people in other cultures is a wonderful reminder that there’s more than one way to live. The beauty of our planet awakens my soul, and the kindness of strangers melts my heart. The grandness and resilience of nature leaves me in awe and makes me realise that life is amazing despite it all.
The Epitome of Meaningful Friendships
The friends I have chosen to hang out with me of their own accord. I have no material things to offer them – no wealth, power nor career connections. I’m not very fun either; I often leave parties early and need lots of rest during full-day events or trips overseas. Those who remain are genuine, and I’d rank them in the top tier of humanity. Their kindness, generosity, empathy and depth is what being human is all about. I am fortunate to be able to experience this on a frequent basis.
Enduring the Difficult Days
Then there are those terrible days where all I’m doing is clinging onto the edge, as I wait for my next dose of painkillers. I don’t want company in a time like this, although visitations do make me smile. We converse away some of pain’s despair, and chocolate becomes a sacred object that brings brief relief.
All of these moments in life are gems covered in dirt. Buried truths left to rot, but germinate and blossom instead with a sprinkle of love and kindness. The surroundings may be drab and rain may be a constant, but flowers grow regardless. It is still possible to admire their beauty, then.
For years I have been escaping, fighting, denying and begging with pain. They worked out for some time, even decades, but they aren’t long-term solutions. Recently I’ve come to realise that I need to accept that pain will always be a part of my life. Part of me as a person, inhabiting a portion of my body.
Positivity Through Acceptance, Not in Denial
But I’d like to make a careful distinction here. It isn’t about positivity that ventures into the realms of denial. Like I said, it doesn’t work out in the long run. It’s about positivity through acceptance. An awareness that yes I’m in pain and the situation sucks, but it can’t stop me from thinking good thoughts. It is extra difficult when depression enters the mix, but being aware that I am depressed can make a difference. I know that what I’m feeling isn’t the whole story and that it’s okay to try and lift my spirits and relax, despite the deception being sold to my brain.
Don’t let fear prevent you from growth; allow your mind to expand past that thick, sticky veil. There is beauty on the other side, the sort that provides meaning which transcends even happiness.
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