As someone who lives with chronic pain, most of my days are spent cooped up at home. While I enjoy the alone time, I do try to get out every now and then. I believe that it’s important to be aware of what’s going on in the world outside of my bubble.
Keeping Things in Perspective
Getting out helps me to see the scope of joy and suffering going on other than my own. This isn’t to say that my pain doesn’t matter or isn’t valid, but it brings awareness that I’m not the only one out there.
Suffering comes in many forms, and one isn’t greater than another. While nobody can deny that health is the greatest wealth, that doesn’t mean that other kinds of problems aren’t problems. Perhaps some of them are luxury problems, but the emotions they invoke are nonetheless unpleasant and bad for your wellbeing. In fact, many of these stressful situations are triggers for what will be lifelong illnesses.
Example One: Career
As with most fresh grads, working was a whole new and exciting world for me. Working past midnight wasn’t uncommon, and sometimes I’d be in the office for 24 hours straight. Such stress can be despairing, even if it’s a manmade problem. (Although I must add, it isn’t that black and white. Responsibility, reputation and goodwill lies in the grey area, but we’ll speak on this topic another time!) The exhaustion and frustration I experienced were no less real. That amount of stress oils the trigger for physical and mental damage.
This is an important reminder, because many of our loved ones who double as our caregivers slog their asses off in part to care for us. While their pain may never be as bad as someone who’s sick, but nevertheless it is still a huge downer.
Example Two: Relationships
When the first love of your life leaves you, it’s natural to experience a huge sense of loss. A hole in your soul, an emotional blow so strong that it becomes physical pain. I don’t deal with emotional pain well. At that point of time, I actually thought it hurt more than even my worst flare up. Or rather, I would actually choose physical pain over emotional pain.
As such, I am able to empathise with emotional loss, and don’t think that a healthy person’s breakup is any less painful than my physical pain. In fact, to assume that my pain is worst than anyone else’s is to become like one of those presumptuous folks out there. “Your pain isn’t visible so I don’t believe it can be that bad.” When a healthy person says that they’re in pain, we need to believe them, too.
Be Aware That There is No Such Thing as “Endless Happiness”
Many of us say that we don’t believe in ‘happily ever after’ fairytale endings in real life, yet that’s exactly what’s happening in modern society. Many people are not satisfied in their relationships, because it is so easy to find a new partner these days. There’s Tinder, Grindr, and many local dating apps and sites. We ask ourselves, “is there someone who is more suitable for me out there?”. To a large degree, it’s a very human desire for ‘happily ever afters’.
I also have a habit of thinking, “if only I were healthy, life would be perfect and I’d know how to appreciate it better than everyone else”. But I know that I will probably not treat the golden trifecta of exercise, diet and sleep with as much respect as I think I will, because human beings are designed to forget pain. There is no perfect life, even with good health. There will always be a degree of discontent, even with a great deal of happiness going on in our lives.
A Mutual Understanding
If we want people to acknowledge our pain, then we need to acknowledge theirs too. We need to set an example of what it means to be empathetic. We may not know the depth of someone else’s suffering, but we can still be there for them, no matter how we think or feel.
We definitely can’t keep up with the pace of modern life, but we can keep up with events around us. Just as how it’s dangerous to become tunnel-visioned in politics, so it is with chronic illness. While I don’t like hearing “it can be worse”, it is good to be aware of actual happenings going on around us. Events such as innocent children becoming disabled from wars, or the tragic decline of an ancient culture. This provides context. It helps me to see my pain in the grander scheme of things. While the pain doesn’t become any lesser, it expands my capacity for endurance.
How to be Aware of What’s Going on Around Us
There are many ways to keep up with what’s going on around us, and every one of us is different. We need to do both extroverted and introverted activities. This helps to exercise and activate different parts of our brain. This can only be beneficial when dealing with stress in its various forms.
An activity that I personally enjoy is having lunch or coffee at a cosy café by myself, while reading a good book or blogs. It’s interesting to see the life buzzing around me – what the latest fashion trends are, an old man hobbling along, young children skipping home from school. Life is varied and colourful.
Once in a while I go window or online shopping; it’s always nice to drool over or purchase something new! Sometimes I browse for short courses or concerts happening in town. I discover new music or hobbies. I enjoy some time outside of my cocoon, soaking up good vibes.
Read a wide variety of genres – fiction, non-fiction, travel literature, romance, sci-fi, self-help. It is never a waste of time; reading different schools of thoughts provides insight into how different people think. Once again, it provides context, and makes me question my one-sided thoughts.
It’s Okay to do Things That Make Us Uncomfortable
While I don’t enjoy large gatherings so much, I do force myself to meet new people from time to time. I think that it’s important to be uncomfortable once in awhile. By taking myself out of my environment, I actually learn to understand my everyday space better. It isn’t hypocritical or a betrayal of your values to do something you dislike. In fact, I think it is beneficial. How else will you know that what you know is true, or what you like is all there is, if it is never challenged or questioned?
Communicate with other people, you’ll learn a thing or two from them about life. Educate yourself through any means, it will give you extra tools to deal with life’s problems. While I personally know how difficult it can be to do some things when you’re flaring every day, I believe that we should try when an opportunity arises. It doesn’t have to be complicated, in fact, it could even relieve you of some pain. Here’s to better thoughts and an enriching life for us all!
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