As a person who lives with chronic pain, pain is not new to me. Unfortunately, it still is a daily struggle that tugs at every aspect of my life. I am coming up on my 2 year anniversary. This isn’t the type of anniversary to go out and buy flowers and chocolate for. This anniversary marks when life changed for me, and every day since I look back and wish I could be the person I was before. Guess what though? Life doesn’t work like that, I don’t get three wishes from a genie to make everything rainbows and sunshine. This is real life and sometimes real life can suck.
Right now, I am learning how to be strong. Right now, I am learning how to pretend. Right now, I am learning to live a normal life while pain consumes my body and mind. Right now, I am learning to be okay when I’m not okay.
Smiles can show many different emotions. It can show when you are truly happy but it can also hide pain and hurt. Don’t ever underestimate a smile, you never truly know what’s hiding behind it. I am one of over 100 million Americans who live with chronic pain. I have become a pro at smiling and hiding how bad I truly hurt…all the time. Yes, I take pride in putting my makeup on every morning, fixing my hair, cleaning my house, cooking and being an awesome wife, mother, and teacher. I do all these things with a smile on my face and pain in my heart. People often think I have it all together every single day, they will say, “Mac, you look great today, that must mean you are feeling better.” This is the furthest thing from the truth. When pain consumes every part of you are, you learn to pretend you are okay. When people look at you and think you are fine, sometimes you forget for awhile that you’re not. For these brief moments, I can laugh and feel normal.
January 2016, I felt a big pull in my back while I was lifting weights and could never get over the injury. New pain is the worst pain, there were days I would cry to even walk my 3rd graders to the bus, or bend over to give my child a bath. This “new” pain went on for a couple of months before I decided to seek medical advice. I visited a neurosurgeon and we discussed my symptoms and some options to remedy the pain. I had to complete an 8 week trial period of therapy and medication to try to fix the suspected problem before we could go any further. During that 8 week period, my pain increased to the point of almost being unable to function and walk. The next doctor visit included an MRI scan along with some pretty tough news. My fear that this problem was much more than a pulled muscle came to reality. Today, 2 years later, the pain is managaemabe and goes and comes in waves of intensity.
Before the injury I was an avid runner, crossfitter, and constantly on the go, whether it be painting furniture or completing DIY projects, all while being pain-free, life was so good. All of these fun things I loved most in the world came crumbling down when the doctor revealed the sad news. The findings of my MRI indicated that my back is that of an old woman along with degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, and two vertebrates that are degenerating leaving two bones crushing all the nerves in my lower back. In addition, I was born without a faucet in my lower spine making an easy surgery or quick fix non-existent. In broader terms, I have Spondylolisthesis, a forward slip of the spine. This leaves me with severe low back pain along with chronic leg pain that flows to the tips of my toes. A spinal fusion has been one neurosurgeon’s recommendation, but we intend to search for more solutions.
Being someone who is on the go non-stop, living an active lifestyle, this news became unbearable, tears streamed and my heart ached. So, I left the doctor’s office with a sad heart, but a drive that I will not let this hiccup tear me apart, I am stronger than that. I push through another 3 months with a smile on my face and a limp in my step, but I’m doing it, making life work. I still wake up and workout (doctors orders) at 4:30 every morning, I still teach my 3rd graders, I still work hard to be the best mommy and wife, and I still cook supper every night (while sitting on a stool), all while being in excruciating pain, non-stop pain, fierce, drop me to my knees pain. Through this pain though, I don’t feel sorry for myself, I just keep moving and pushing.
Now, here we are 2 years later and the pain still eats away at my body and mind. I have accepted that pain is a new characteristic that describes me and will probably stick with me the rest of my life, but I refuse to let it consume who I am. I am a strong woman because I have God on my side. I rely on the fact that I know my God has a plan and I guarantee when all of this is over, I will come out being stronger.
I am writing this so you understand that pictures on Instagram and the internet can be pretty and carry a smile, but you never know what is hiding behind all the prettiness. Everyone has their struggle and nobody has a perfect life. If you are going through a struggle, stop feeling sorry for yourself. Wake up, get up and make life work. Sure, pain is embarrassing, heartbreaking, and unfair, but what is crying and complaining going to do? It’s okay not be okay, but it’s NOT okay to mope around and think the world is out to get you! It will make your life darker when it is already dark enough. Remember, life is what you make it regardless of the trials. I intend to make life fun, enjoyable, memorable, happy, adventurous, even with non-stop pain.
As I pour out my heart, I have tears falling down my face, not because I am sad, but because I refuse to give up, I am a fighter, I am a believer, and I WILL NOT let this steal my joy, I have hope! Please, whatever you are going through in your life, don’t give up, God’s purpose for you is not a mistake. He is shaping you to be a strong warrior and this is his plan for you.
Hopefully, your journey can inspire others to push through another day. Whatever situation you face, try to find a slither of hope and share it with people who are hopeless. We may not see it or understand it today, but eventually, God will reveal why you went through everything you did. Be patient and push through every single day. Cry, kick, and scream, but please, don’t give up!
How to Cope
STAY ACTIVE- My doctor’s advice was to stay as active as possible, focusing on keeping my body strong. Staying active will help fight the pain, a strong body means a strong mind. Find comfortable exercises and do them every single day.
DON’T MAKE YOUR PAIN AN EXCUSE- Don’t say you can’t do something because of the pain. The way I see it, pain is going to be with you in bed just as it would be at the movies, so why not go make memories. Do what you can to stay normal, even if that means faking it till you make it, don’t let chronic pain defeat you.
FIND SUPPORT- Surround yourself with supportive friends and family who understand what you are going through. It’s frustrating when you have to try to explain your pain to someone who doesn’t understand or care. If you need to go sit in a room and vent or cry to a friend, find people who will allow you to do that without judgment.
EAT HEALTHY- Eating healthy will allow for total clarity. A healthy diet can lead to treating your symptoms. For me, the Whole 30 and Paleo lifestyle fight inflammation in my body and allow for a little relief. Find what works for you and stick to it. Eating chocolate cake may make you feel better for a second, but in the long run, it will aid in your pain and leave you feeling guilty.
STAY POSITIVE- It’s amazing what positive thinking can do for your spirit. Walking around feeling sorry for yourself will make people run when they see you coming. Even though pain is the only thing on your mind, try to be normal and not complain all the time, keep a positive attitude and outlook.
LIVE WITH DISTRACTIONS- If you can distract your mind and shift your thinking, this is key in managing your pain. Try meditation or reading a book. Sometimes this will work and other times nothing will outrun the pain. Try finding a way to keep your mind busy.
MAKE TIME FOR SELF-CARE- Whether it is sitting in a dark room, crying, or doing absolutely nothing, take time for self-care. For me, blogging is my outlet and allows me to consume my thoughts with things that make me happy. Find what works for you!