THE ROAD TO COMPROMISE
What do you think? Can we get there from here?
There is a road I travel every day and I know many of you travel it, too. When your life is upended by pain or disease, the smallest deflection from normal can feel like a painful pebble beneath one’s foot. It’s hard, uncomfortable and totally unplanned. You find yourself pausing abruptly, reaching down toward the problem and trying to undo what you feel. Like a piece of gravel beneath the shoe or worse yet, one inside a pair of sandals, the journey is paused while the tiny culprit is caught and tossed aside. We’re expecting a smooth walk or ride and sharp edges and sudden pain are not part of the expectation for a gentle stroll, wherever it may be. That’s just the start of a life-long journey of living with chronic pain or disease.
Every way we had known previously is halted or changed. When chronic pain crashes in the door of your life nothing remains the same. So many decisions face us they are far too numerous to count. All of life’s choices are rearranged in priority and importance. Every tiny part of one’s day is suddenly upended as our sleep is disturbed, often eating patterns are changed and all activity has to be examined. My dear husband has a tale he introduced to me early in our relationship when I questioned how he could know so soon that he loved me. That was forty years ago but I still remember it and would like to share it with all of you. I know I’m not being absolutely true to the original version but give me a break…forty years?
It seems there were two old cowboys walking along in a western town many years ago. Their names were Zeke and Pete. They were colorful old guys who smelled like tobacco and horse sweat and greatly enjoyed each other’s company. They came to a blacksmith shop and the blacksmith was hard at work and they all said, “Howdy,” to each other. Zeke bent down to see what was laying in the pile of loose dirt and sand and picked up a horseshoe that lay there. He dropped it immediately, jumped back from it and shook his hand. Pete said, “What is it Zeke, was that horseshoe hot?”
Zeke looked at Pete and said, very slowly, “No, it just doesn’t take me long to look at a horseshoe.” There we are folks, living our lives when all of a sudden, we are confronted with an undeniable fact. We’ve picked up a hot horseshoe and find it impossible to put it down fast enough. Most of us take months to adjust or even years but we do know that horseshoe was hot. We learn. Maybe we don’t learn as fast as Zeke did but we learn.
I’ve just hit you with a plethora of analogies about pain and life’s directions using pebbles and horseshoes and I apologize for the multidirectional aspects of that but I know you get my point. Life is no longer the same. Not only are we hit with choices each and every moment of each day, but we are also struck with a need to compromise at every turn.
We find ourselves compromised in all ways. The pain is either sudden, as in an accident or injury or it is gradual as a disease process that proceeds into our lives, right over our denials and consternation. We ask ourselves what we’re going to do and find that stagnation and lethargy face us at every turn of the clock. Do we give in to that desire to always sleep in? How do we care for our families or just ourselves? Can we go to work? Should we work fulltime, if possible or do we have to compromise and work part time? What do we have to give up if part time is all our body will handle? Eating, shelter and family dynamics as well as medical care are all compromised as we make change after change in our lives. And such unwanted change is so deeply resented by all of us. Who embraces this kind of change willingly while also having to carry the burden of pain?
When we’re small children we learn about compromise. When we are young, compromise and sharing look and often feel like the same thing. I loved the twin cherry Popsicles when I was a child. When I had to break one in half and share it, well, on a hot California day, that was compromise. When a child wants to go out and play but the parent says it is time for bed, that’s also compromise. We are taught about compromise very early in life but we seldom learn to like it.
As adults who are struck with chronic illness and pain, we are faced with a whole new set of compromising situations, each day and often each hour. We were usually taught that settling for less was not a good idea, therefore when we find ourselves doing it, we often feel guilty. Have we failed? If we have, what can we do about it? Oh my, the frustrations we face, as if life is not already difficult enough.
Eventually, most of us come to the conclusion life is different because we are different. We have to face that most dreaded of all things…change. Change naturally recruits compromise and we become quite good at it. If we don’t compromise, we have painful lessons to learn. “If I lift this pot, will my back hurt all night?” That’s when we learn to use plastic pots, fill them in place and ask someone else to move them if that must be done. Compromise.
We ask ourselves, is the pain I have turning me into a recluse? If the answer is yes, then we have to come up with solutions we can live with such as placing a cushion in our car, using a cane or choosing an activity that is very important to us as compared to one that is not. That is one of the reasons the handicapped parking permits can be wonderful. If it is a day when you are out of everything and the refrigerator is empty, of course it is often on a day you feel lousy. That closer parking can be wonderful. We don’t have to use it if we’re having a better day and want to use that walk into the market for a bit of exercise. If we go to a program our children or grandchildren are in, it has to be important to them and to us. Every activity along the way such as lifting laundry or going out to dinner has to scrutinized and faced honestly. In my own life, for instance, I don’t go to restaurants with hard chairs unless it is imperative. Even then, I know what the compromises will be for me, personally, later that night and into the next day.
At first, I believe, most of us try to please others as much or more than ourselves. After many sleepless nights tossing and speaking rudely to ourselves, that soon becomes prioritized as we realize we don’t have enough “oomph” to please everyone. It becomes immaterial if the other individual or individuals understand our health situation as we realize we are the ones who will pay the price. Others may never realize what we are experiencing in our own lives or bodies. It’s great if they at least try but often, we are expecting them to feel what we feel and that is simply not possible. The best we can hope for is empathy.
In a rude yet secretly pleasurable way, compromising due to our health can be a life saver. No, not the pool side one or the delicious candy but it does offer us a polite way to get out of things most humans hate to do. We do, however, have to go to the doctor more often than most and that’s not always wonderful.
Yes, we can get there from here but it involves a great deal of compromise as we come to embrace it as a must in our lives and see it as the pressure valve it is in our very compromised lives. Let me share with all of you a cute story from my husband, Jim’s family, that is a humorous example of compromise.
It seems that Jim’s Mom wanted their family car washed because it was a muddy mess. She had asked Jim’s Pop to wash it but to no avail. Finally, one day after being reminded once again about the dirty car, he went out front of the house and spent all day washing it. He washed and dried it. He waxed it to a shine and took great care and seemed very proud of his efforts. He called Jim’s Mom out to see what he had done. She was enormously pleased as she looked at the car parked in front and slowly walked around it to find he had washed “her” side of the car but not his. Half of the car remained the same dirty car.
Now that is compromise. You see, it can be funny at times. Keep looking for the laughter my friends. Don’t give in to the struggle unless you must.