“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” Kahlil Gibran
Up until fairly recently, I often felt betrayed by my body and even though at times I still do it is an awful lot less. It was always breaking down, leaving me frustrated and bitter whilst feeling that life was unfair.
No one else seemed to have as many problems.
I’ve had numerous hospital admissions since I was about 14, had several operations, had a stroke and since been diagnosed with Behçet’s disease.
Whenever I get ill, it never seems to be something trivial. A cold becomes a massive flare and small things can lead to a big infection due to my immune system not being particularly helpful.
Last year after travelling around Costa Rica, my friend returned home fit as a fiddle, whereas I almost passed out in the airport on the way home and had to retire to bed early on several nights whilst out there.
The thing is, I’ve done a lot of healing over the past few months and years. I’ve consulted with doctors, nurses, physios, counsellors, psychologists and other therapists. In a lot of ways, I’ve become more aware and in tune and aware of my body and healthier than ever since being discharged from hospital last month. I feel like I’ve grown as a person, have more resilience, and am able to celebrate the positive side of life.
So when I found myself trying to heal my chronic lower foot pain, I was disapointed to hear the old “poor me, why me?” tape start running again. Last night I was lying down, feeling very sorry for myself when something occurred to me:
What was the lesson that I hadn’t learned yet? What was my body trying to tell me?
So this is kind of how it went…..
Yep, I said, “Excuse me body, I feel really betrayed by you. You always seem to be sick, sad, or sore. What are you trying to tell me?”
And here was my body’s answer….
“I’m not trying to betray you on purpose. You need to remember that I also have needs and limitations. I try to let you know but you’re too busy trying to fit everything in and thinking you can keep up with everyone else. Sometimes this is the only way for you to listen to me”
I might sound mental but for me, this was an epiphany and a moment I needed.
I had an immense insight with images flashing in my mind from my past.
Nights when I ignored my body’s need for sleep as I lay binge watching a TV series or finding yet another film to watch. Becoming dehydrated from forgetting to drink enough water. Punishing training sessions and sports matches that I pushed through in agony in my endless quest to be better and a ‘good’ player.
All that time I spend overthinking, overplanning, and overtraining, while my body endured it all. Trying and often failing to get my attention until it broke down and pain is the only way it gets me to listen.
However, I’m not suggesting that all illnesses or pain is created by a lack of awareness or the ill treatment of our bodies. Sometimess illness befalls us all for no good reason, and it’s not your fault. This is also the case for me and I do know that sometimes even doing nothing would cause debilitating pain.
Therefore, each moment we are in chronic pain or illness, we need to try and choose our attitude toward it. So I wanted to share 5 tips I’ve learned along the way to help do a complete turn from resentment to kindness.
1. Do what you can.
Focusing on all the ways you are limited will make you start feeling sorry for yourself and wishing things were different. ‘Poor-me-land’ is the most unfun place ever (for you and all the other people who were unfortunate enough to get dragged in with you) so get out of there as quick as you can and onto the positive thinking train instead!!
Seriously though. Focusing on what you can do gives you more inner peace, keeps you grounded, and inspires you to take action within your own limitations.
2. Don’t do what you can’t.
This might sound stupid but listen to yourself and don’t do too much. Being a martyr and pushing yourself to try to appear less weak to yourself or others is a recipe for disaster. So don’t be a hero. If it hurts or it will hurt, and you hear yourself saying, “I really should” or “Screw it, I’m doing it anyway” that means your inner critic has barged in and is running the show.
Don’t get me wrong this is not easy. For those of you who know me will know that I am awful of this and will ignore my own body. You need to banish that inner destructive part of you and not let it win. However, don’t beat yourself up if at times you do too much and think that you should have done differently. This is natural and will happen until you get to know your body better.
3. Stop trying to fix yourself.
I know it sounds weird, but hear me out. The idea of “healing” brings to my mind someone who is ill, broken, less than good enough. What if instead of trying to heal yourself, you treated your body with absolute kindness? What would that look like?
Of course you may still need to take medications and see different medical staff, but your intention shifts from getting someone to fix what is ‘broken’, to the learning to adapt what you do have around it.
I don’t think there is a person alive who couldn’t benefit from meditation. This is doubly true for anyone experiencing chronic pain. There are a myriad of techniques, so I encourage you to find a style of meditation / relaxation that works for you.
I have recently started using the Headspace app which is a 10 minute session a day. I am fortunate that my work pay for it but there are also free sessions. It took a while but now I force myself to switch off for just 10 minutes. If you haven’t already give it a go!!
5. Do things you enjoy.
Illness is a drag, no doubt about it. But humor and pleasure are incredibly healing. Surround yourself with as much pleasure as you can. It doesn’t have to be grandiose or expensive but find something you are passionate about.
Everyone is different so finding something you enjoy maybe completely different to someone in a similar situation.
When I am well and able to walk normally and run my focus is hockey. However, one of the hardest things was to find something else for when I can’t physically play the sport I love. It was hard because nothing seemed that it would anywhere near match the amount of joy I get from hockey. If you hadn’t realised from my previous blogs but photography is my ‘something else’.
It may take a while to find what is right for you but that is okay.
Write a list of your favorite things (Sound of Music-style) because sometimes we forget in the moment what we enjoy.
Living with any form of illness or condition is hard but it can be only as hard as you make it. Don’t get me wrong you probably will still have bad days and days where you feel life is against you but that’s normal. What I’m trying to get across is about trying everything you can to accept your body for what it is and adapting to that.
It’s a lesson I’m learning but I am definitely getting better.