June 20, 2017

Finding the “Little Joys” in Living with Chronic Pain.

Thriving in spite of chronic illness and pain can be an incredible feat that requires courage, strength, and perseverance.

We must make the best of those little moments when life is just too beautiful to hide away.

I hobbled along Bondi Beach with my cane as joggers passed me by. I fondly remember jogging along this beach and many others like it. I made it halfway at my slow pace and felt the same sense of accomplishment. It has taken me years to stop holding myself up to my pre-sick standards and just be with myself as I am—no longer waiting for the magic cure and the big heal.

Living with chronic illness and pain is a heavy world to navigate. It is far too easy to become consumed by the pain, the isolation, and the grief. The only way out is through, but nobody comes out the other end unscathed. That doesn’t mean we’re broken.

We’re the heroes in this odyssey; we’ve been to Hades and crawled our way back to the land of living on our hands and knees. Maybe you’re still crawling, but you’re in good company. So, keep crawling, knowing there are so many voices who share your struggle and are cheering you on.

We may have lost control of our bodies, and we may live in a state of uncertainty about when and how our condition might flare up despite our best efforts (such as clean eating, rest, detoxification, light exercise)—but we don’t need to identify with the condition.

It does not define who we are. I am not a sick person who writes; I am a writer who happens to be dealing with illness. I’m the hero of the story—the protagonist. I am not the conflict or the crisis.

During one of my darkest periods emotionally and physically, after years of complete debilitation and resulting isolation, I joined a meditation course called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). It was hard to drag myself out of the inertia of illness to participate in the weekly course. Nothing about showing up to meditate was easy. It was draining, exhausting, my body ached, and all my symptoms screamed through the silence. But, it was all worth it.

I have found that meditation and the practice of mindfulness has helped me heal those areas of myself that have been wounded by prolonged illness. I have found that I do have the power to heal—my mind, my heart, my spirit. By extension, my pain has less power over me and the person I am. I highly recommend it—simple mindfulness. The joy of just breathing. Let your spirit soar—this is where you have the power to not just heal, but thrive.

The following poem, “Little Joys,” developed out of one of my meditations on the nature of pain, suffering, and the grief of being chronically ill. I want you to have it, to sit with it, and to find your own little moments to breathe in the joy of just being.

We were talking
about suffering
about how the mind runs
about habitual pain

I long for health
but when that longing disappoints, 
I can choose despair or I can 
choose grace
I open myself to the little joys.
Why would I choose to suffer 
what I cannot escape?

We don’t suffer because we hurt,
but because we want not to.
Disease—physical pain—
emotional turmoil—financial strain
We despair, we fear, we resist
We long for ease

We hold a magnifying glass
to that which we want not to see
and our joy is diminished.
No pleasant experience
is ever enough
it could always be more, better, bigger, easier.

The moment is heavy
with what we bring to it.
We cannot see things as they are,
we cannot accept what
we cannot change.

We cannot change
this moment,
so we judge it
we quantify it
unpleasant, avoid
pleasant, hold fast

Then joy evades us.
when we have it,
we fear losing it.
we want more, better, bigger, easier.
we hold on tight
we lose sight
chasing our own tails.

So I try
I recognise it in myself
I choose joy
I invite grace
I suffer less
and find love in its place.




Author: Andrea Sheldon
Image: Unsplash/Ryan Moreno
Editor: Travis May
Copy editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Social editor: Yoli

Read 1 Comment and Reply

Read 1 comment and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Andrea Sheldon