“As long as you make an identity for yourself out of pain, you cannot be free of it.” ~Eckhart Tolle
Up until fairly recently, I often felt betrayed by my body. It was always breaking down, leaving me frustrated and bitter.
No one else seemed to have as many problems.
I've had Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, an inflamed gall bladder riddled with stones that ended in surgery. Chronic migraines, chronic hives, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Whenever I get sick, it never seems to be something trivial. A cold becomes bronchitis. Hayfever leads to a sinus infection.
One year after holidaying in Thailand, my partner returned home fit as a fiddle, whereas I got scabies, salmonella poisoning, and acute facet lock (or rye neck, which I did in my sleep!).
The thing is, I've done a lot of healing over the years. I've consulted with counselors, acupuncturists, physios, osteos, hypnotherapists, and more. In a lot of ways, I've become more in tune and aware of my body and healthier than ever. 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 back pain, I was disapointed to hear the old “poor me, why me?” tape start running again. One day 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 I asked it.
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 soft, small answer.
“I'm not trying to betray you. But I have needs too. I try to let you know but you're too busy hanging out with your mind. When you two get together, you get lost and sometimes I have to scream at you for you to hear me.”
Woah. For me, this was an epiphany.
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 voraciously consumed gripping novels. Eating sugar until I had throbbing headaches. Becoming dehydrated from forgetting to drink water. Punishing workouts that I pushed through in agony in my endless quest for thinness.
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.
Now I'm not suggesting that all sickness or pain is created by a lack of awareness or the ill treatment of our bodies. Sometimess illness befalls us for no good reason, and it's no one's fault.
However, each moment we are in chronic pain or illness, we can choose our attitude toward it. So I wanted to share 7 small tips I've learned along the way to help do a 180 from resentment to kindness.
1. Do what you can.
Focusing on all the ways you are limited brings on a case of the “poor me’s” lickety split. “Poor-me-land” is the most unfun place ever (for you and all the suckers who were unfortunate enough to get dragged in with you) so get outta there as quick as you can on the gratitude gravy train.
Seriously. Focusing on what you can do gives you more inner peace, keeps you grounded, and inspires you to take action.
2. Don't do what you can't.
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 should” or “Screw it, I'm doing it anyway” that means your inner critic has barged in and is running the show.
The best way I've learned to deal with mine is to banish her to a hammock. As weird as this may sound, it's my way of helping calm her (and me) down. I remind her of what I can do (see above), let her know she doesn't need to be afraid, and that she can go chill in the hammock 'cause I got this. Then I have the grace to give myself a break.
3. Stop trying to heal.
I know it sounds weird, but hear me out. The idea of “healing” brings to my mind someone who is sick, 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 see health practitioners, but your intention shifts from getting someone to fix what is broken, to the ultimate in self-nurturing.
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.
5. Invest as much as you can in your health.
Now, this is tricky, and a subject that can make people a bit twitchy. I know it's hard, especially if you've had to stop working to focus on your health. (I've been there too.)
But prioritizing your money to support you healthwise as much as you can is worth it. Begin to look at your budget through the lens of fierce self-love, rather than what you think you should spend it on.
6. Nourish yourself.
When I feel like crap, it’s so easy to eat sugary foods to comfort myself. But it always backfires because I end up feeling empty and drained after the rushing sugar high. When I choose food that I know my body will love me for, it helps me by putting more energy into healing itself.
7. Find pleasure.
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.
Simple pleasures every day can help alleviate suffering, whether it's watching a comedy, using your favorite tea cup, being in nature, hanging with animals, or listening to your favorite album. Whatever works for you.
Write a list of your favorite things, Sound of Music-style, because sometimes we forget in the moment, and reminding ourselves of the fun stuff helps us do a 180 toward joy.
How do you transform your attitude during moments of pain or illness?
Photo by Helga Weber