Editor’s Note: Erin lives in a Minneapolis suburb with her husband and daughter. She’s 30 years old has suffered from arthritis since she was 5 years old. She advocated for those with chronic pain and Medical PTSD awareness.
When I saw National Pain report put a call out for writers for chronic pain awareness month, I was eager to write. Finding a specific topic to focus on showcasing my chronic pain experience proved to be indecisive though.
There are times I tend to reflect on what chronic pain has taken away from me, but then and even more so times I reflect on what chronic pain has given me? As much of a challenge life is dealing with ongoing aches and pains… there is indeed a take away from a pained life. With that I would like to share my experience, strength and hope.
My earliest memory of pain goes back to when I was five years old. I was bowling with my family, when my legs seized up and I was unable to walk, this was followed by years of appointments. I had days where I struggled to walk, and nights of screaming pain, still though was unaware that this struggle was different than other kids.
At the age of 9 I started to realize that things were different in my life, than others. I struggled to run and participate in physical education class, often times feeling so shameful of the fact that I was not athletic like my sister and friends. To feel adversity is very much a challenge, to feel adversity at such a young age was devastating. However not fully understanding the parameters of arthritis, I did not know that arthritis was a disability, and that it was in fact, ok to not be like my peers. Around the age of 10 figure skating became a huge part of my life; it was something I could do, without as much stress on my joints. More importantly it was a segue in my life to open my self confidence back up to the possibilities of being active with arthritis, and well since then I have not really looked back at limitations.
As I have aged over the years, I have come to learn that arthritis really is just a symptom of much broader health concerns. However it is my biggest challenge still day to day. My mornings usually include an inventory of what hurts before I even get out of bed. I lay and do a mental scan of what hurts, indexing each joint for their morning roll call. Some days it is minimal, and I am up and out of bed. Then other days I will lay and question what my strategy will be to get out of bed, and if I can manage to walk. Either way though, my day begins- or it begins with self awareness.
Self awareness, for me represents many things. It represents my ability to function within what limitations are presented each day. It represents my ability to speak and advocate for my specific needs and health care concerns, it also means being aware of what I have received in return from a pained life.
These gifts of a pained life are the silver lining of 25 years of challenges. They are very precious to me. How can I use my experience to empathize with another who shares a similar journey? There is a sense of gratitude to be able to fully embrace the blessing of being able to say “I understand” and show compassion to another person. It is also something that I have felt reciprocated amongst the chronic pain community.
Through the chronic pain community (Specifically the Minnesota Ehlers Danlos Community, and Sphincter of Oddi Dysfunction community) I have made connections and friendships over something that is often isolating. We share in each other’s joy, fear, sadness, and hope. I have learned to celebrate and embrace the good days, and share my need for support during the harder days.
I honestly can say I am grateful for my chronic pain. Though it is not something I would choose had I been given the choice, it isn’t all bad. I have grown to have humor about this life, developed resiliency, and a drive of ambition to really embrace what is beautiful, even if it is a result of chronic pain.