For most of us, chronic pain comes out of nowhere. We are moving happily through life when – BAM – the diagnosis of a chronic illness puts us right on our ass. And the diagnosis doesn’t come with a handbook, either. Instead, it usually comes with more questions than answers.
Are there treatments? Is there a cure?
Can I continue to do the things I love?
Is it possible to have the same life as before?
We focus so heavily on fixing, curing, and getting back to the way things were. We forget to look for the lessons our body is teaching us and to search for joy, peace, and gratitude in the midst of the storm. Here are 4 secrets of living with chronic pain that no one really talks about:
- It is *totally* possible for you to live a happy, joyous life while also having a chronic illness. Happiness is a choice. Let that sink in for a minute. I once read a book written by Viktor Frankl about how he mentally survived being held captive in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. He said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” I don’t think it’s possible to really compare circumstances (chronic pain vs a tragic accident vs living through the Holocaust) because it is subjective to each person who experiences it. But what is universal is the truth that we have the freedom to choose how we respond to our life circumstances. When you make this choice, is DOES NOT mean that you “pretend” everything is all rosy and full of rainbows. Huh uh. It means you embrace the shit out of your darkness. You recognize that nothing is the same. You acknowledge your feelings and emotions, whatever they may be. And despite all of that, at the end of the day, you say “I want and deserve to be happy, so I’m going to do what I can to make my life great.” This does not mean that every day is happy. It means that you find gratitude and meaning in your daily life in whatever ways you can.
- It takes courage and support to write your own life story. Let’s be real for a minute….being responsible for choosing your own happiness is freakin’ scary. It means that we can no longer use our life circumstances as an excuse for our fear, our unhappiness, our anger. It means that we have to step up to the plate and play the game instead of sit on the sidelines. This takes major courage. You don’t have to have all the answers in order to choose happiness (none of us do!). You don’t have to know exactly how to manage your pain perfectly. You don’t have to perfectly implement every recommendation from your doctor or physical therapist. You just have to keep moving forward and recognizing that there is light even in the darkness. Community support is invaluable on this journey. Meeting and networking with other women who are also choosing happiness in their life has profound effects. If this speaks to you, come join us in the Chronic Illness Goddesses Facebook page.
- You may find that you like your “new” life better than your old one. One of the most common things I hear from the women I work with (& something I said myself) is: “I just want my old life back.” It’s a tempting trap to fall into. In our old lives, we didn’t really know pain. Maybe we thought we did, but compared to now, we didn’t. We did whatever we wanted – went where we wanted when we wanted, worked the job that we wanted, and hung out with our friends at the drop of a hat. Now, everything has changed. But once you open yourself up to choosing happiness, you open yourself up to an entirely new possibility for your life. Personally, I think my life has been positively changed by chronic illness, and I’ve heard the same from many other women. Not being able to do the same things anymore can have two effects: 1) you don’t do anything anymore. 2) you explore a whole new world of activities, interests, and meaning. I encourage you to choose the latter.
- You may actually find a stronger connection to who you are at your core. Chronic illnesses change many things about our lives. We have to change the way we work, live, move, and even…shower. So it feels like we are far from our “old selves.” In reality, chronic illnesses allow us the opportunity to come back home to who we really are at our core. Our authentic selves. Because chronic illnesses make us question every aspect of our lives, it gives us a chance to proceed in life in alignment with our true values. Before we are diagnosed with a chronic illness, most of us are just moving through life unconsciously, working ourselves to the bone. We don’t know our own strength and our own self-worth. Chronic pain gives us an opportunity to slow down, take a step back, and re-prioritize our life areas.
You don’t just wake up one morning and decide to choose to be happy, write your own story, explore new activities, and connect with your authentic self. Well, at least that’s not how it goes for most of us. But there are concrete actions you can start taking today to move you into this conscious space.
- Express your gratitude. Those who choose happiness know that the foundation of joy comes from enjoying our current blessings. And I guarantee you that, regardless of all your symptoms/issues/problems/concerns, you can find SOMETHING to be thankful for right now.
- Create daily affirmations, meditations, or prayers. Search for and write down quotes, prayers, or affirmations that speak to you and inspire you. Write them on post-its and stick them in places you will see every day!
- Express your joy. Create a list of absolutely everything that brings you joy, down to the tiniest little things. Everything from a certain color of nail polish to a special person in your life to the dream home that you want to live in. Write it allllllll down.
- Visualize your joy. Create a visual representation of everything that makes you happy – past, present, and future. Do a Google search for images of all the things you love and print out the ones that really speak to you. Put them up on a cork board and place it somewhere you will see every day.
- Recognize your strengths. Part of choosing happiness is recognizing the fact that YOU are *worthy* of being that happy. Write out each and every one of the things about yourself that you like. It could be as small as the shape of your feet or as big as your entire personality. If you’re initially stuck, ask trusted friends and family members to write out 5 things they love about you. Go from there, but make sure you are writing things that YOU really love about you, not just what other people love.
- Choose healthy foods. Healthier foods (fruits, veggies, healthy meats & fats, nuts) fuel your body and give you more energy. They open up more space for you to feel joy more powerfully. Start by simply adding one more veggie to your day (a salad, some carrot sticks, a green pepper cut up and added to your pasta).
The journey to choosing happiness is a personal one for each of us with different twists and turns. Be kind to yourself on this journey. If you are not in this place yet, it is okay. Each of us are exactly where we need to be on our path. If you are ready to step into this space with support and guidance, set up a free Clarity Call with me to see what is possible for your future!