My answer would be: it depends upon one’s perspective.
During my journey through chronic pain and debilitating inflammation, I’ve gone through so many phases that I can’t even describe them all. Some of them were more difficult than others, some of them lasted longer than others, and some of them even made re-appearances along the way. Looking back, though, I’m really happy that I went through all of these ups and–yes–all of these downs.
And come to think of it, I can’t even really describe this current phase that I’m in, other than to say that I’m really liking it. Now, what follows is the *last* thing that I ever thought I’d find myself saying, especially considering just how bad the pain can actually get at times. What I jotted down, only a couple of days ago, was that I’ve found that dealing with the physical pain of RA seems relatively easy, when compared to the challenges of dealing with all of the emotional pain, feelings, and thoughts that result from living with chronic illness.
Okay, so let me be clear…I am in no way trying to minimize the physical pain that is caused by rheumatoid arthritis. Those of us who live with it directly know how severe, and overwhelming, it can be at times. Looking back at some of my recent posts, however, I’ve started to recognize the emergence of certain themes, which are the difference between physical pain and emotional pain, and the importance of being able to distinguish between the two.
I guess what I’m saying is that all of this emotional pain that I’ve carried around for years, which I’ve always seen as a given, is actually quite optional. I have only recently come to recognize as much. Now that I’ve decided to just toss aside (this might not be the best way to describe my actions, as I’ve certainly not ignored my feelings…maybe “moved past” or “worked through” is better) a lot of this anger, depression, frustration, fear, and concern about what other people might think/not think, all I find myself left to deal with on a daily basis are the physical challenges that result from my pain and disability.
Which are certainly still significant, mind you…but stripped of all the items mentioned above, everything just seems so much…easier.
A couple of hours ago, I had a pretty major flare. As my mind and body started slipping away, I told myself that I needed to hold on to a positive thought. (This is something that I’ve gotten into the habit of doing during the past few months, even–especially–when my pain is at its worst.) This afternoon, however, I didn’t even have the energy to form an entire thought. All I could come up with was one word: respect.
I repeated, and visualized, this word to myself over and over for I don’t know how long. Eventually, my flare passed…but I was left wondering why I had chosen this word. I’ve written previously about respecting my limits, and not pushing myself too hard…but this isn’t exactly what I was referring to, when I was deep down in my flare.
And then it dawned upon me. I’ve always envisioned my body and my illness as two different things, connected yet separate. For the first time ever, though, I finally thought of them as one integral whole. And as I did so, all previous associations related to ‘me versus my body’, which I’ve carried around (as well) for all too long, slowly started to melt away.
What I was respecting during the midst of my flare, in fact, was myself. And as I respected myself, I felt no need to distinguish between my body, and my rheumatoid arthritis. Yes, I was in a lot of pain…but believe it or not, I actually felt good.
If I keep telling myself that this is hard, then things are only going to continue getting harder. So, I’m going to change my perspective, and try the exact opposite approach. I’ll let you all know how it works!
Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!