Thankfully, I no longer live in pain. After a decade of wildly unpredictable pangs of pelvic pain, I found a treatment team that helped me heal. Healing has meant a life without that pain for more than two years now. No pain flares, no medical crises, no surgeries or hospital admissions or frantic midnight calls to the on-call doctor. I just have a normal life now.
After living with pain for a third of my life, it’s not possible for me to live a life that isn’t somehow colored by that experience. It indelibly shaped who I am – which is something I staunchly resisted when I was newly recovered. When my chronic pain was more immediately in my rearview mirror, I was running scared from it – and as fast as possible. I didn’t want to look back at it, because I was scared it would still be there. So I just ran from it, hoping that if I kept it out of my mind, I’d run fast enough and far enough that it would fade from my memory. Annoyingly, that’s not how pain or memories work.
I recovered from pain and returned to work, but the memories were still there. On stressful days, my anxieties strayed to thoughts of my pain returning. At my stressful fancy law firm job, I became aware that my schedule didn’t allow any time for physical therapy visits, yoga, or even a quick walk at lunch. This freaked me out. I felt like a sedentary lifestyle was inviting pain back into my life.
The more firmly I tried to push pain out of my thoughts and memory, the more insistent it became. It permeated my thoughts and anxieties even more. What if I did something to trigger its return? What kind of care did my healthy body require to stay pain-free? I didn’t know what I did to cause the pain, so I didn’t know what to do to keep it away.
Obviously, this kind of preoccupation does not a normal life make.
So, I jumped ship. I quit my fancy job, and I traded my high heels for Uggs. I reluctantly embraced the weird unfamiliarity of being “normal” again by gradually learning (with my physical therapist’s help) to challenge my fears of pain. I used my intensely logical brain to counter those fears, to explain to myself why my terror of pain was both reasonable and unnecessary. This was not easy, and it was a long process.
Ultimately, I realized that I wasn’t happy pretending that I never had pain. Even when the fear no longer paralyzed my decisions or activities, it felt unnatural to devote none of my brainpower to thinking about pain. So I decided that, in fearing pain, I was just thinking about it the wrong way. I started to think about how my experience of pain might be used to teach providers, or to support other women in pain. I began speaking at conferences and found that I relished public speaking more than any previous professional endeavor. I connected with other women who had suffered from pelvic pain, and friendships of an indescribable intimacy and understanding were born. I considered how this preoccupation with pain might be used to drive my continued dedication to my health, and I began a regimen of yoga and exercise that has brought me inexplicable joy.
So now, I spend about the same amount of time thinking about pain as I did when I was initially racing away from it, but my mindset has shifted 180 degrees. Now, I’m facing the pain. It’s not to my back, chasing me down. Instead, I’m squaring it up, assessing how it can be managed or demystified or challenged. I’m talking about it with doctors and women, and I’m reassessing how I can use my experiences with it to save others from similar suffering.
Yeah, sometimes it’s a little uncomfortable. Sometimes its power spooks me, and sometimes I feel like staring it down in this way could cause me harm – like how we were warned against staring into the sun as children. But that uneasy relationship with something that’s had such an indelible effect on my life was always inevitable. I no longer deny being affected by my pain, as I tried to do when I initially returned to work. I thought I could “start fresh,” making a clean break with my pain-riddled life and beginning the pain-free chapter. But my reflection since my pain faded away have taught me that there are no clean breaks. Our lives are fluid, and our experiences color us. So today, I’ll admit that my pain changed me. And I’m working to be OK with that.
© 2017 Inspire Santé, NFP