I think, maybe, I really have found an inner peace. All I had to do was get through hell.
Or maybe I’m just a little further along the path up the mountain.
Or maybe it’s just the drugs.
Whatever it is, I can tell you with certainty that the pain has changed me. And I think, maybe, there’s a little part of me that’s thankful for that this Thanksgiving.
I still have so much hate in my heart for the pain that I never like to admit it could ever result in anything good. But when I stop to take a look at my soul, I can see how different I am now — and I know that most of the changes are good.
The pain has a way of ripping you apart until you’re a million different pieces scattered on the ground, and all you can do is grab what’s important and stitch back together what you’ve managed to pick up.
Of course, like any other project, sometimes when you’re rebuilding you end up grabbing materials that were never part of the original design. And the finished work only faintly resembles what you started with.
So here I am, almost two years after first waking up with obscene pain in my right ribs — and I am not the same.
I Am Less Stressed
I have finally realized that there is absolutely nothing worth stressing out about.
When you’re so sick that taking a shower wipes you out, you realize that it doesn’t really matter if you get to dinner on time, or make your flight, or whether or not you clean the living room. In the end, the only thing that really matters is your health. And one of the main ways to maintain my health is to avoid any and all stress.
So, I really have learned to let it all go.
That doesn’t mean I haven’t grieved for the part of me I’ve left behind.
I miss being the one everyone could depend on to get whatever needed to be done, done. I miss my old life as a relatively successful youth leader who managed to lead mission trips, organize fundraisers and help kids cope with divorce all before noon. And I miss having big dreams of running the world one day.
But I don’t miss feeling anxious all the time, or getting just 5 hours of sleep a night, or working 18-hour days on a regular basis without even taking a break to eat.
I am at peace now.
I Am More Compassionate
I also understand compassion in a new way.
I had always thought of myself as the type of person who cared about others. And looking back, I’m pretty sure I did, but only to a point.
Now though, living with pain day in and day out, I’m more attune to how others are feeling. It’s almost as if this whole other dimension of life revealed itself to me since I’ve been sick.
I get it now. I get what it’s like to be sick. And what it’s like to lose everything. And what it’s like to deal with doctors, hospitals, and medical bills. And what it’s like to stare down depression.
I understand how hard it is to completely give up your independence, and to walk away from something you love in order to save yourself. I understand so many things so differently because I have lived them.
All of those things are clearer to me now, and because of that, all of those people out there suffering from those things are clearer to me now too.
I Have Accepted Myself
But most of all, because of the pain, I have somehow found a way to truly accept myself.
I am the heaviest I have ever been, I rely on box dye to go blonde because all of my salon money now goes to prescription companies, and I only shower a couple times a week.
Yet, somehow, in the midst of it all, I’m more confident than I’ve ever been.
I think it has something to do with the fact that once you’ve gone through hell you’re just so happy to be alive you don’t care how you look.
It’s like I constantly wake up in that state you find yourself in right after the flu, where all of your body image issues are temporarily at bay because you’re just so happy to have a body at all.
And when I meet people, I have this little voice inside of me saying, “You’ve survived another day. You’ve beat this pain for just a little bit longer. You are strong. And you are amazing. And it doesn’t matter if other people know it, because you know it.”
So yes, I am very different now. I am not the same person I was when I woke up with unexplainable pain almost two years ago. And even though I’d still give it all back to wake up tomorrow healthy, I am just a little bit thankful for the new me for this holiday season.
I am thankful for the peace, thankful for the compassion and thankful for the inner confidence I wouldn’t have been able to find any other way.
It’s been a long journey, and I’m likely still only in the midst of it, but I am finally at a point when I can sort of see some light on this path — and in the end, that’s reason enough to be thankful this Thanksgiving.
Crystal Lindell is a journalist who lives in Byron, Illinois. She loves Taco Bell, watching “Burn Notice” episodes on Netflix and Snicker’s Bites. She has had pain in her right ribs since February 2013. It is currently undiagnosed.
Crystal writes about it on her blog, The Only Certainty is Bad Grammar.
The information in this column is not intended to be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Only your doctor can do that! It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s personal experiences and opinions alone. It does not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report or Microcast Media.