Chronic pain has a way of radically changing a person’s life; even those with strong self- esteem and coping skills struggle (yep, even me!). Healthy self-esteem enables us to accept, respect, trust and believe in ourselves. Chronic pain can take that away from us: for some, the most difficult blow comes when you can no longer do things connected to your identity (loss of a job, not being able to participate in sports or hobbies, not being able to spend time with friends); for others, using a cane or walker or having to use a handicapped placard is devastating.
Whatever it is…you no longer feel like YOU; instead, you are just a bag of symptoms. This is exactly what Connie from Alice in Fibroland wrote about this week:
Yesterday, I took the stairs, instead of the elevator, and that made all the difference.
I was having a good morning. I’m taking some new medications, one to help me sleep better and one to wake up my body during the day. It seemed like an innocent flight of stairs, and I was feeling ok. I was feeling stronger, braver – that little fear inside that says this is what life is going to be like from now on was quiet. So I took the stairs.
And it came rushing back. The strength flew away and took the bravery with it. My breath was gone, my muscles were jelly. I was no longer me, no longer ok. I was fibro again.
There was a day earlier this year where I had the briefest moment of insight. For weeks before, I had been sick, on top of fibro, with the flu and pneumonia. At doctor’s visits, I had become my symptoms. I wasn’t Connie; I was shortness of breath, exhaustion, fever. But for a brief moment, as I was recovering from those illnesses: I didn’t feel any shortness of breath, so I wasn’t shortness of breath. And I didn’t feel any exhaustion or fever, so I wasn’t those symptoms, either. I was me, just me.
It’s the same with fibro. In a search for answers, we become our symptoms. We are fatigue, we are pain, we are fog. It is such a struggle to climb those stairs, with the symptoms that are weighing us down, pulling us away from our true selves.
And yesterday, when I decided to take the stairs, I wasn’t my symptoms. I was me, who used to take the stairs. But by the time I made it to the top, I was fibro again.
To someone who is used to doing it all, learning to balance, to pace and to set limitations — weighing the stairs over the grocery store or the post office over cleaning the bathroom — is like learning to breathe underwater. In the long run, taking the stairs isn’t important. Neither is my ‘To Do’ list, cleaning the bathroom, or even the post office. What’s important isn’t the doing or the things. It’s the being, just being me.
You are NOT your illness!
You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.
Martin Luther King, Jr.