Today marks the end of 2015. As I sum up the year in my mind I wonder, “How did I grow and develop this year?” This year saw me rise and fall and rise again with a new sense of self-love and commitment to living fully and with value.
Living with constant, often severe, pain over the last 5 years robbed me of a sense of my inherent value. I once felt vibrant and purposeful, I now felt only like a burden to those I loved.
In 2015 I found my way off of pain meds which had dulled my brain and my sense of aliveness. I truly hated having to take pain meds. I don’t know if I was more devastated by the back pain or by the brain fog from the medications I took to cope with it. Just before the beginning of 2015 I discovered Kratom and transitioned to that instead of prescription pain meds. Kratom had fewer side effects and my brain worked much better. Then, in May, I found my massage therapist who got my pain down to a level so bearable that I was able to taper off Kratom.
And so, by the summer of this year, I was off the meds. Yay! But suddenly I was face to face with my limits. There was no longer any fog or separateness from my experience. I realized I was very depressed, still hurting, and I had to make some changes. With this clear head I saw that I was spending too much time giving out my energy to others, but denying myself any pleasure or fulfillment. This pattern was making my pain worse and deepening my depression. Why was I doing this? Because chronic pain made me believe I was boring, useless, and had lost all value. All my (very limited) energy was going into proving to myself and others that I was relevant, worthy and valuable. I was constantly trying to redeem myself. I was making less money so I had to spend much less money on myself. I asked for less and less from others because I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone, and didn’t feel like I deserved anything that wasn’t an absolute necessity. So, in my home office I went with out curtains or even a chair. I suffered every evening from lying on a too hard sofa. I made career decisions that didn’t account for my own self care. It took me a few months of trying and failing to live well before I got it that I have to rekindle my sense of self-worth. And all it takes is the decision to do so.
Chronic pain may be an obstacle in life but the idea that it robs one of their worth is an all too common, but truly absurd side effect. Self-worth can’t come from measuring productivity, financial success, or from compulsively giving of one’s energy and time. I remember Oprah saying “Fill up your own cup and give from the overflow.” I had forgotten how to do that. I even wonder if I ever really knew how. I have learned over the last few months that this belief has to be unconditional. You don’t have to earn it. You just live it.
And so, as we go into a new year, I give myself permission to make this the year of “Me.” A year in which I get to prioritize myself. I plan to continue to decorate and work on beautifying our home because I want to. I plan to do more fun things out of the house. I plan to buy some new clothes so that I feel proud of how I look. I will socialize for fun, not obligation. I will replace my sofa cushions with softer foam. And, yes, I already bought myself a chair and curtains for my home office!
My New Year’s wish for all of you with chronic pain is that you count yourself first. Find things that bring you joy and do them. You haven’t lost the right to be happy. Your value is unconditional.