“Give me something for the pain, Give me something for the blues
Give me something for the pain when I feel I’ve been danglin’ from a hang-man’s noose
Give me something I can use
To get me through the night
Make me feel all right”
It’s about 3.30am where I am now and I’ve just gotten up from a 23hr sleep. Every part of my body is ringing with nerve pain and the diazepam and pain meds are just starting to take the edge off of it. I’m exhausted and all I really want to do is crawl back into my bed again. But I thought I’d log on for a bit and write about how I’m thinking and how I’m feeling during one of these “Long Dark Tea-Times Of The Soul“. Because this is the reality of living with a chronic condition; of living with chronic pain that flares up any time it feels like it – or in this instance, after I’ve spent a day over-exerting myself.
“So why do you over-exert yourself when you know what it does to you Blue? Sounds kinda dumb, even for you!”
Well, sure. I could just sit on my arse and do nothing every day, but I’d still have flare ups. And besides, I’m not dead yet. I still have a life that I need to get on with; things I need to do for myself; a partner who I need to be there for. I’m not about to just throw in the towel and give up any semblance of normality and independence that I can still muster, just to avoid the days like today when my entire body feels as though it’s pierced right through and enmeshed within a web of barbed wire. Life is all about trade-offs. It’s about the choices we make every moment of every day and the subsequent benefits or repercussions those choices bring about. As cold and unemotional as it sounds, we’re always rationalising our decisions, doing immediate ‘cost-benefit analyses’ – often without even realising it. But I’m always hyper-aware of the effects that my decisions will have on my body, and despite knowing how much something is going to end up hurting me, I have to weigh up the pros and cons and choose what is worth doing right now in the moment, fully understanding just how much I’m going to end up paying for that choice later on.
So sometimes I just have to choose to accept that more pain is going to come, if I’m to have any life at all. And I’m sort of okay with that. Obviously I hate that this is a trade-off that I have to accept: pain for life. And I really fucking hate the fact that I have these horrible conditions in the first place. But I’ve learned to live with it and also to really understand and appreciate just how beautiful and valuable life is. There’s a reassuring pleasure to be found in the mundanity of everyday life, that we rarely see any worth in until that everyday existence is threatened. As someone with a curious mind and need for constant stimulation, I struggle with the notion of just “being” – I’ve written before about how I will never be someone who can just sit and empty their mind or meditate – and I’ve spent my life always looking for ways to keep myself occupied. But suddenly finding yourself unable to pursue all the activities that one has previously taken for granted, really causes a person to stop and take stock of all the little things that make life worth living.
We often hear about people who upon receiving a terminal illness diagnosis, immediately find a real zest for life and become determined to make their last days on earth really count. It’s sad that it takes something as horrific and final as one’s impending death to make us really appreciate every day for the gift it truly is. But it’s also completely normal and understandable. Life is a chaotic blend of good and bad; of the exciting and the boring; of the sacred and the profane. And it’s so easy to get caught up in the day to day grind of working, providing for our families and caring for those we love. We choose our little battles and focus on our goals and with only so many hours in the day, it’s easy to forget about stopping to “smell the roses” from time to time. Nobody really likes to think about the inevitability of their own mortality, so we just keep on keeping on. Always moving forwards, rarely pausing to think about what it’s all for, all this effort of doing, striving and struggling to get…somewhere. Until that is, something happens like a terminal diagnosis – of ourselves or someone close to us – that forces us to get up close and personal with just how fragile, brief and valuable our time on this planet actually is.
Yeah, I know I sound like some hippy-dippy, new-age spiritualist right now, but bear with me okay? I don’t have a terminal illness, but I do have chronic conditions that will only get progressively worse as time goes by. I’m never not going to have arthritis and fibromyalgia, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do everything within my power to stop these conditions from worsening more than they would if I just accepted my fate and did nothing. Which is why I decided to lose weight and improve my health in the first place. In a way I’ve actually been luckier than a lot of people because the little push that caused me to re-evaluate my life choices wasn’t a terminal diagnosis with an immediate end in sight; it was something far less serious that gave me enough pause to start making better choices every day. And I’m weirdly grateful for that. Because who knows just how much more damage I could have done to my body before I found any real reason to do anything about it? It feels like I skated really close to the edge of somewhere really dangerous, only to be brought back from the brink by forces beyond my control or comprehension.
And on top of that, learning to live with a chronic illness has also made me really value life in all its crazy shades and hues, for the amazing gift it really is. Pain does things to a person. It jolts us to a level of awareness that just isn’t there during our more comfortable moments. When we’re experiencing pain, we’re very much living in the moment, as awful as it might be. It’s almost impossible to think beyond the agony and how to get through the next few minutes, but once that pain begins to relent (as mine is doing right now) it’s like we’ve been delivered from evil and born again into a place where everything is so much brighter.
I’m speaking purely from personal experience here, so don’t any of y’all come at with the ways in which I’ve gotten it all wrong because your experience differs wildly from that which I’ve written about here. Of course this is a personal, subjective reflection; none of us can ever actually know how another person experiences pain or the absolute levels of hell it visits upon each and every one of us. I’m not trying to write a definitive treatise on pain or even view it objectively. Far smarter men than I have written far more insightfully on the subject (that Jung quote above really resonates with me on a literal and metaphorical level – everyone should read a bit of Jung if they want to get a better understanding of themselves!) I’m just…heck, what am I doing? I’m writing about all this because I’m feeling like crap and I need an outlet and I guess this place is as good as any. When I write things down it helps me to clarify my own thoughts and whilst this post isn’t really anything to do with weight-loss, it’s as much a part of my life as anything else I discuss on this blog. If you’re looking a really brilliant and impactful book on the subject, I’d highly recommend “In The Land Of Pain – Alphonse Daudet”. Really more of a collection of notes and scribblings it chronicles the hellish descent into agonising madness by a man suffering with syphilis. It’s only a very short book (about 120 pages) and whist being immediately readable and relatable, the descriptive writing is both viscerally tragic and eerily beautiful.
But getting back to what I was trying to say about the positives that can be gleaned from experiencing a chronic illness, whilst I still do hate being beset with these frustrating conditions, having sat and thought on my own situation long and hard, there really is a silver lining to what initially looks like one great big mofo of a cloud. Yes it makes life difficult because I really have to plan out everything I do on the understanding that I will suffer later for anything that causes me to push myself a little further than my body is comfortable. And yes, it’s infuriating to know that there are some things that I simply cannot do. But I’ve also found a new appreciation of not just the moments when I’m enjoying getting to do the things which end up hurting me (I’m not a masochist, I swear, lol!) but of the times when the pain recedes and my joints aren’t as seized up and I can just “be” – in whatever banal, mundane moment that might be. And I’ve never had that before. I’m not saying y’all will ever find me sitting in the lotus position, surrounded by joss-sticks, chanting “Om!” (as if, lol) but those times when I’m wracked with pain, unable to do anything other than make it through the next few minutes, make all those other times when the pain relents and becomes the normal hum of background pain that I pretty much always have, so much sweeter.
In order to know happiness, we really need to know what it is not to be happy. It’s that contrast in experience which gives happiness so much value. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have lived a life mostly free from sadness. I’ve had injuries and illnesses like everyone and experienced the normal losses of family members and pets that we all go through. But I’ve largely been able to do whatever I wanted to, safe in the knowledge that anything I chose to really pursue would be utterly attainable. I’ve had mad experiences, worked like a demon, wasted a bunch of time on nonsense and gotten to my middle-age relatively unscathed. But it took developing a chronic condition to actually make me truly understand how much there is to love and appreciate about life. Would I take the magic pill and have my illnesses cured in an instant if such a thing were to exist? Well yeah, duh. I’m grateful, not stupid. Who wouldn’t want to be able to avoid the agony of a grotesquely gnarled body, all twisted up in contorted pain?
But I wouldn’t want to unlearn the lessons that all this has taught me. I’ve really begun to see value in the everyday and the mundane. I still want to find things to keep my mind occupied when I’m stuck in the house, but I’ve developed an appreciation for all those times when I’m not enduring a flare-up or suffering after a day of over-exerting myself. Being in pain has made me appreciate not being in pain – or just experiencing the low-level background of pain which I’ve pretty much gotten used to. And sitting here now as the first twitterings of birds waking up are coming in through the open window, I’m feeling a little better than I did when I started writing this meandering waffle of a post. My arms and torso are still throbbing (because in my sillier moments on Thursday I decided to do some push-ups in the hallway with my other half…yeah, I know, I’m an idiot, sue me) but the muscles in my leg have stopped spasming and the needling pain in my feet has mostly abated. It’s a cool Saturday morning and I’ve got books to read, YouTube videos to catch-up with and some laundry that needs to be done.
I’m obviously not going to be overdoing things today, but things are already looking brighter than they were a couple of hours ago (it’s now about 5am here in the UK). I’m looking forward to spending the day with my other half and seeing all the sparrows and crows and blackbirds as they come to feed on the smorgasbord of comestibles that I’m about to put out for them for breakfast. I’m going to be sore and stiff for the rest of the day, but today is going to be a good day, I know that much. So what was the point to this post? Well, it really just started out as a means of catharsis for me. I needed an outlet to distract me a little bit as my meds kicked in and figured I’d share the way I was feeling with you guys, because why not? But I guess the underlying take-away from everything I’ve talked about today is that whilst it’s important to set goals and strive to achieve them, never lose sight of what’s going on around you while you work hard at whatever it is that you want to succeed at. We only get one life, so enjoy as much of it while you can. Take the rough with the smooth and be truly grateful for every minute you get to live on this planet. And no matter how shitty and difficult things might get from time to time, appreciate what you have and every now and now again, maybe stop to smell the roses.
Stay grateful folks