Learning, learning, all the time learning. Grammar school, middle school, high school, colleges, for me more than one; was not the end of learning. Life, God, the Force, somebody out there, I would like to issue a formal complaint. Where is your complaint department? I’ve searched the internet and came up empty. Thank you, dear Lord, for the privilege of prayer. My list of not-so-polite queries is growing longer and longer. Unfortunately, I’m still hanging on by my bare, painful, arthritic knuckles while I wait for an answer. I’m beginning to suspect the “proof is in the pudding,” which means I have to get the answers in bits as life drags me along with it.
I am able to air my grievances to others, usually my poor spouse, to friends and to online friends who probably understand the most just because many of them share my complaints. I do believe it’s important to air, complain and share my life experiences with others; thus, I write a blog and have for 12 years. Before that, I wrote in other venues, some of a serious nature, others in the comedic style. Airing your frustrations, experiences and blessings is an important part of life. Sharing, caring and airing…all are cathartic. During the endlessly long 34 years I have lived with chronic pain, my list of lessons learned, and still learning has grown. It’s too long to share, but for the today I thought I would choose 9 of the highlights of those life lessons chronic pain and illness has taught me.
1. ALL PLANS YOU LAY OUT FOR YOUR LIFE SHOULD BE WRITTEN IN PENCIL OR INVISIBLE INK. Life never goes the way you think it’s going to. This applies to every area of your life whether it be family, work, health or pleasure. Every captain of a ship needs to chart a destination and course, this is true, but he must also be capable and wary of storms and further obstacles that may appear in the seas ahead. He can’t just stand on deck yelling, “Hey, this isn’t what I had planned.” If he does, then down he goes, glug, glug, glug!
2. IF YOU DON’T LEARN TO “GO WITH THE FLOW”, BEND, LIFE CAN BREAK YOU INTO A MILLION PATHETIC LITTLE TINY PIECES. Awe come on, aren’t you and I enough of a wreck without that? Living with chronic pain and illness is not only a difficult life, but often an impossible one. We often have to look for ways and people to help us accomplish the impossible. These answers come in many and often surprising packages; i.e. doctors, strangers, medical personnel, friends, and pets. You will find it amazing how often answers can be found when you learn where to look, how to expect them through prayer, with faith and never, never giving up. I love a little publication by Guideposts called MYSTERIOUS WAYS. I recommend it with great enthusiasm because it is full of wonderful, mysterious and joy-filled ways God can work in our lives. It’s a small magazine and very inexpensive to order and be inspired by for its size.
3. LOVE LIFE. So much of the world is full of beauty. Right now, I am very inspired by the small things that grow in the earth, whether it be in a pot or a yard, as they return in a rhythmic fashion after a long winter. A tiny flower, such as a primrose hides beneath brown leaves all winter, prevailing against cold, rain and wind only to come alive again with the first warmth of spring’s sun. They know the secret to renewal. How do they know? Is it God, is it Mother Nature or is it built into their very creation, their DNA, to survive. They not only survive, but that particular flower, blooms endlessly, popping up beneath the dying flowers and leaves with tiny new buds, day after day. Here in Oregon we have plentiful and beautiful rhododendrons, which look like they’re in mourning all winter long. Their leaves bend downward toward the ground, looking pathetic. In early spring their buds begin to form and the “thinking” or mapping they were doing all winter, eventually bursts forth in huge plate sized flowers of spectacular colors.
4. ALL DOCTORS ARE NOT CREATED, EDUCATED OR PERSONALITY BLESSED THE SAME. True, they can have diplomas filling up their walls, documentation and awards but they are not necessarily the best ones for you. Some doctors put up a huge wall between themselves and their patients. I once went to a rheumatologist in LA who wouldn’t speak to a patient, even to say hello, in the hallway but put on a charming mask once in the exam room. Unfortunately, he was well-versed in the ways of rheumatology, darn it. I prefer a human doctor who backs away if he/she is hurting me, winces at my pain and looks concerned when I have a problem. A profoundly human one will even refer you to another doctor if he/she doesn’t have the answers you need. If you question a doctor’s decision, and he doesn’t like it, remember this is your body and your life. I had to leave a cardiologist last year for arguing with me because I didn’t want to take a drug that led me to have a GI bleed and he was finished in my opinion when he said, very dramatically, “I am the doctor!” I answered, “Well, I am the patient, it’s my body, and I’m an RN and have an opinion about this.” Run, don’t walk or if like me you can’t run, limp away, wheel away just get away from him/her. If you have an insurance problem or a company that sticks you with a stinker, call them and explain the situation and ask for an alternative.
5. SOME MEDICAL PERSONNEL, INCLUDING PHYSICIANS ARE TRULY BLESSED, HIGHLY TALENTED AND LOVE THEIR PROFESSION. Try to seek these out by asking others or just by trial and error. Educate yourself about your own condition so you won’t let these stinkers disrupt your already disrupted life. Don’t go through any procedure without asking why it’s to be done, how it will affect you and how much it will hurt, if any. Both, as a patient and a nurse, I have seen and experienced each of these with regret and learned to ask these questions. Don’t be afraid to be human with a decent doctor. This doesn’t mean he’s your psychologist, it simply means he will treat you better if he or she understands who you are and where you’re coming from.
6. LEARN FROM OTHERS WITH YOUR SAME CONDITION BUT REMEMBER EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT. Just because a friend takes one medication, doesn’t mean it’s right for you. For example, it might cause you to break out in hives, or have some other reaction. With advent of the internet, there is much knowledge available and we can be an informed public more than ever. Just remember some of those websites are trying to sell you something and need to always be approached cautiously. I’m all for “making a buck” but not based on a lie.
7. ALWAYS TAKE LIFE ONE STEP, ONE MOMENT, ONE DAY AT A TIME. We are each given 24 hours each day. Ask yourself how you want to live that day. Remember life is about choice. That doesn’t mean we ask to be sick or to be injured but the choice comes in in how we react to what happens to us. Do you want to be a pain in the ass that day? Just be prepared for the consequences from those around you and the total lack of reward you will glean from the day. It is certainly your privilege to be a PIA but be prepared. I think the 24 hours moves more slowly on those days though, don’t you? If you waken and are in pain as many of us are, do what you have to do to minimalize that pain, then decide if you can do something to bring you joy. It might be a new book, planting a new violet (I’m really fond of African violets all over my house) or just spending the day with your spouse or a dear friend. If you have a talent, use it. Oh, the rewards we gain are wonderful in spite of our pain.
8. BE USEFUL. Many of us lost our jobs due to disability. This doesn’t mean we can’t be useful. I always try to find at least one thing to do that leaves me with a feeling of accomplishment. Yesterday, I pulled a few weeds and since we had rain that morning they came out easily. I felt useful. Some days it’s as simple as pushing the button on my Roomba vacuum and other days it’s a shopping trip that I know I will later regret. I know that sounds odd, but most of you know what I mean. You and I know what it is to do too much. That shopping trip brought in fresh produce and great meal ideas but, and that’s the big but, spelled with one “T,” not two, there is often a price of pain to pay after such a trip. Everyone living needs to feel useful and accomplished to grow and to learn.
9. TRY TO BE SMARTER TODAY THAN YOU WERE YESTERDAY. Only an idiot or one who is mentally ill will continue to make the same mistakes. I know, I know, we all do from time to time out of stupidity or stubbornness because we want our old lives back but try as we will, it doesn’t happen. Each day we have to learn, adjust and retain what we have learned. Each day we are a different person and the past is gone with only today and tomorrow to plan for, think about and look forward to with courage.