I consider every birthday to be a cause for celebration and most to be a time for healthy reflection. By that I mean, it’s a good time to review the past and to set goals for the future while at the same time not attaching to any particular outcome. One very important lesson that I’ve learned over the years is that while having a bigger vision and smaller goals are essential, the pressure-filled timeline that usually goes along with them is definitely not.
We cannot possibly control all of the circumstances of our lives. Life is ultimately a co-creation and an unfolding. Of course over the years I’ve had many different visions for my future, some which I have manifested while others I have not. Yet, all things considered, I do my best to acknowledge and celebrate the successes and learn from the rest. I encourage my students and clients to do the same and to consider their “non-successes” not as failures, but rather as teachings that become opportunities for course correction and personal growth.Now that I have just turned 50 and have entered into a new decade, I recognize upon further introspection that I do have many lifetime achievements to celebrate even considering the dynamic that most of my life has been dictated by pain. Allow me to give you some context and share some of my backstory.
My daily physical pain began back when I was 13 years old, and at 19, I was ultimately diagnosed with a chronic pain syndrome known as Fibromyalgia. I seemed to have met all of the necessary criteria to be given this free, unsolicited membership into the chronic pain community. It’s very important to note, with Fibromyalgia comes CFS – Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and sometimes RLS – Restless Leg Syndrome.
What people too often said to me and which hurt me the most was, “You’re too young to be in pain.” I totally agreed. I disliked and sometimes even hated my pain, which was a constant in my life and left me feeling limited, sad, angry, and anxious—and so I buried these feelings deep within.
And now, still facing the same syndrome decades later as well as several new unresolved chronic issues, I have become far less concerned about what other people have to say. Over the past few months, I have decided to dig even deeper in order to discover the truth of my life and draw some new and more realistic conclusions. What I ultimately decided around my pain was to face it head-on by bringing it into the light and examining it in order to make real and lasting peace with it.
My ultimate battle seems to be over—as is the dissatisfaction with some wishes unfulfilled and dreams unrealized. Realistically speaking, however, how could I ever have expected to be so much further along in my healing journey and my career considering all the pain obstacles and suffering I have had to manage along the way?
How very sad that we, especially women, all have a tendency to do this. We hold ourselves to such high standards, chock filled with absurd expectations and ridiculous timelines. Obviously, it’s our conditioning; therefore our work is to retrain the overthinking mind and change up our unhealthy thoughts, beliefs, and stories.
Up until my 50th I pretended not to be a part of the chronic pain community and I did my best to keep my invisible disability to myself. I lived with the daily pain of Fibromyalgia and the resulting suffering of mild OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) yet refused to identify with either as I could not relate to their extreme cases.
As part of my birthday gift this year, I recently gave myself full permission to finally change the dynamic of my life to be able to inhabit two worlds—the one I share with the healthy and the invisible one I share with those who are also suffering physically and/or emotionally. I am slowly learning how I can live well within both and how to find and maintain the delicate balance within these parallel lives. This is, no doubt, an ongoing process that will continue to unfold over time.
The fact that some of my dreams have not yet been realized no longer leads me towards judgment but rather opens the doors of curiosity and future possibilities. A more peaceful mind is also better able to act skillfully and make good decisions. And so, after more than two decades, I recently decided it was time to revisit my original rheumatologist to get reassessed and updated on the latest research.
This is what I learned from that appointment: There is nothing noteworthy out there to help alleviate the pain of those living with Fibromyalgia. Some medications work, but with limited success. There are few recommended therapies or treatments. Patients are told to try to exercise and keep their bodies moving, but relentless pain often makes that difficult.
The issue, I was told, lies within the nervous system. There is poor and inappropriate messaging. The brain says pain, but there’s nothing really wrong. Imagine how confusing and exhausting that can be, especially carried over many years.
Upon leaving that appointment I made this commitment out loud to my doctor, to my husband, and to myself:
“I will never allow this condition to define me, but I will become an integral part of this community in order to serve myself and those struggling within it. I will do my best to teach others how to find freedom from their self-created suffering, no matter what the circumstances.”
There is still much hope for those suffering with Fibromyalgia. Although there may be little that can be done to relieve the physical pain within the body, there is much that can be done to alleviate the emotional and mental suffering. We need to focus on our mind power and learn ways to build and strengthen that muscle.
According to Toni Bernhard, in her book How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness, we can use mindfulness and other practices to navigate the many challenges of chronic pain. But I believe that we cannot do so without accepting the truth—the truth that we are limited. We are different, and yes, in many ways we are disabled, but only in body.
In our minds and hearts we can believe and envision many possibilities and outcomes, most of which doctors cannot see. I firmly believe that we all have the mental power and capacity to heal parts of ourselves. And no matter what the medical professionals say, we have the right to challenge them. We need to to practice acceptance around our pain while at the same time continuing to believe in our own ability to shift that overactive nervous system, and thus reduce our pain.
Being that we are only human, on our best days we can shower ourselves with loving kindness and compassion and on our worst days we can grieve from our ongoing pain. And as for all those days in between, we can learn how to make peace with our pain and even grow from the journey. Why not embrace the truth that life is, in the words of Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield, truly “happy-sad.”
I challenge you, whatever your age, to accept this contradiction. Try to make room in your heart for contradictory feelings. You will feel more at peace when you let them live side-by-side in harmony—the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the healthy and the unhealthy, the pain-free and the painful.
Yes, the pain may be inevitable, but the self-created suffering around it is the part we do have the power to change. I am committed to serving this community and to helping people find freedom from their over-suffering.
If this topic resonates with you, please share your story with me and let me know how I can be of greatest assistance to you. I currently have time available within my coaching practice to take on a few more clients. In addition, I am now creating my new workshop entitled How to Quiet the Overthinking Mind for those Living with Chronic Pain, so please contact me at your earliest convenience to reserve your spot.
I know pain and I know about suffering. I understand the over-thinking mind and the causes of the over-suffering. Allow me to help you with yours.
I love your blog Terri, and your personal stories are always inspiring. I can’t imagine how you’ve lived so long with chronic pain, but admire your ability to have found a way to manage the emotional stress it causes. Sending you strength. Happy Canada Day to you!