By Ellen Lenox Smith.
Living life with chronic pain has meant dealing with twenty-four surgeries and two presently incurable conditions, which can often leave you on edge and unfortunately, sometimes waiting for the next shoe to drop. I try so hard not to feel scared, negative and anticipating something about to go wrong again. For individuals with a history of serious chronic health conditions, the future can often feel threatening awaiting the next challenge, but the reality is there and can haunt me at times. Chronic pain patients often expend a great deal of emotional energy attempting to fend off fears of serious challenges such as further deterioration to vulnerable bodies and psyches. Daily, I have to keep pushing those thoughts away.
Every day of the life I have been living for the past fifteen years, has entailed work towards a goal for better quality of life. Endless hours a week are spent on strengthening exercises, manual physical therapy appointments, surgeries and recuperations, testing, caution on how to move without hurting myself, along with examination of all foods and medications put into the body. Each day requires calculation to keep safe and attempt to minimize pain levels.
So where do those emotions go when it looks like I have hit a better moment? At first, I quickly slip into believing this is for keeps and fall right into the dream of that life I once had, returning to me. But shortly, after I experience that feeling of excitement, I often revert to the negative framework of waiting for the other shoe to drop and wonder when that moment will possibly slip away from my hard-earned success. I wish my mind wouldn’t do this - slipping into the mode of self-doubt coupled with the possible fear and questioning like it is about to be withdrawn. Do you experience this too?
So, why did I Question this?
We just attempted, for only the second time in years, going to the beach to read and enjoy being at the ocean. I was excited until the emotions crept in as to what the physical cost to me might be for walking on the sand again. Would it again sublux (partial dislocation) the legs and feet or even worse, dislocate my damaged hip? Well, with talking myself down, I walked about ten feet on soft sand and was able to sit and read on the beach for the first time in years. This once common and enjoyable trip to the beach required an expenditure of a great deal of emotional energy to calm the emotions down and to try to believe this would work, which it did. I avoided physical damage, but it was so annoying that this exciting adventure was being marred by the “what if” thoughts.
Why did I Question this?
We just went to NYC to see three of our four sons, wives and three of our four grandchildren and didn’t pack my wheelchair for our one night stay over. This was the first trip in thirteen years where we left the chair behind. I have been now walking the dogs up the street, walking in stores and have been having my legs hold, after years of surgery on my legs, living for four years in a wheelchair and until recently, still needing use of a scooter or wheelchair in a store. The trip to NY turned out to be successful! I was able to use my legs without damage of subluxations. Yet, I again had to remind myself this was possible but those emotions of doubt and questioning as to if this could really work kept trying rise to the surface of my consciousness.
I wish we could learn to totally shut down the mind. I have heard that what we think about we can bring about. If that has any merit, then why would I be so immature to think about the negative when I work daily to make life have a more positive outcome? I will continue to find those moments in my life that help to shut down this thinking - like when I kick in the pool and the mind shuts off for me or when I try meditating each morning and run through my mind what I am grateful for. It does not come for free to focus on the positive while working to attempt to eliminate the negative. Those of us who have had ongoing medical issues have to work even harder to shut our minds down and believe we can have better moments and even deserve them. May you have success with training that mind to shut off the negative so you can find the courage to try what has been denied for some time with your medical issues.
May life be kind to you,
Ellen lenox Smith
Author of: It Hurts Like Hell!: I Live With Pain- And Have a Good Life, Anyway, and My Life as a Service Dog!
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report.
Ellen Lenox Smith and her husband Stuart live in Rhode Island. They are co-directors for medical cannabis advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation, along with Ellen on the board and they both also serve as board members for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition. For more information about medical cannabis visit their website. https://ellenandstuartsmith.squarespace.com/