Those first few years of intense chronic pain were confusing. Suddenly, I was hitting against limitations I hadn’t had before. Oh, I knew pain. I’ve had headaches since I was 3 years old, but chronic pain is different than occasional bursts of pain.
Chronic pain is day in, day out, all over again. While your body undergoes physical exhaustion, your mental and emotional state is worn down too. I mean, really worn down.
Chronic pain is also invisible unless you’re experiencing a flare-up and your face reflects the pain’s intensity. Invisible pain is a beast in itself, because if you’re going to talk about your pain out loud, you have to verbally convince people it’s real. And before you can convince people, you have to convince yourself (because invisible pain is not only terrifying, it can also feel unreal at times!).
For a young girl who ran around, climbed trees, drove quads, rode horses, arm-wrestled boys (sorry, Mom), jumped desert bluffs, and lived an extremely active childhood, this sudden screech into chronic pain was a hard thing to understand. I’ve written the long and short of it in my book, A Pygmy’s Life for Me.
I tried to live as though the pain wasn’t there. Being brave meant acting like I was okay. Being brave meant making people laugh when I was hurting intensely. Being brave meant anything but saying, “I’m in a lot of pain, and I NEED HELP.”
I definitely had unhealthy thought processes, but I also hadn’t gone through this before. I had no idea what I was doing. So I refused to give up, give excuses, or give into chronic pain.
But I finally learned that no is a healthy word. Saying no is powerful and important. No, I’m unable to do this. No, I can’t go to work today. No, I probably shouldn’t do that. No, I think I need to lie down instead. I began to understand that saying no wasn’t giving up, it was giving my body what it needed.
Saying no is healthy. Saying no is brave. But saying no is hard. And I’ll give you a few reasons why:
People will make assumptions about me and may question the reality of my pain.
I will debate whether the excruciating pain is valid enough to take a sick day.
I will wonder whether I am making excuses or if I am making the best decision.
I will feel bad for inconveniencing others on such short notice.
I will be misunderstood because of limitations I cannot explain and pain I cannot visibly show to others.
As you can see, saying no has been one of the hardest lessons for me to learn (just ask my friend, Leah, who has seen me at work when I should be at home!). But saying no is necessary for good health–emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual.
If you don’t choose to say no, your body will force a lot of no’s on you because your body needs what it needs, and it will MAKE YOU STOP until you pay attention to what it’s screaming about. It is far better to choose your own no’s then to have them forced on you.
And I 100% believe you can suffer intense pain and still live a full life, serve others, love people, do new and crazy things, accomplish all sorts of goals, and embark on wild ideas. YES, YOU CAN. Learn your limitations. Choose your no’s.
Here are a few things to remember when exercising the Power of No:
Saying no is a decision of healthiness not happiness. This is not a decision about pleasing people. It also won’t likely be a decision that makes you very happy either. You choose no for the good of your health. Period.
Saying no is a brave choice, but it’s not a badge of honor. You’re not a hero, you’re a human taking care of your body. Remember that.
Saying no to something means your saying yes to something else. Is this decision your best no and also your best yes?
Take stalk of your no’s. Is there a lifestyle change you need to make to help you say a few more yes’s? Are there stale habits like food, sleeping patterns, and exercise routines that need to change? You want every future no to be said confidently and without regret. Be honest. Make changes when needed.
Get in the habit of saying small no’s so your big no’s grow farther apart. What are small things I can eliminate from today to help me have a stronger tomorrow? Are there lifestyle boundaries I need to reinforce for healthy pain management? Should I say no to a busy weekend so I can say yes to a responsibility-filled week?
No can be said with freedom and without apology. If you are honestly choosing health, improving as you can, reevaluating habits when needed, and living well where you are, then your no’s should never be attached to long explanations, guilt, shame, or inadequacy.
You are choosing the best for your body and people DO NOT HAVE TO GET IT. And you DO NOT HAVE TO EXPLAIN YOURSELF. You just have to do the next right thing for your health while also being kind to yourself and others in the process.
Lastly ( and this is very important),
Never, ever use the Power of No to live life selfishly and complacently. Ultimately, your no’s should be helping you build a healthier, stronger lifestyle. Let your no’s support your lifestyle, but never let them become your lifestyle.
And when you don’t have to exercise the Power of No? Be all in. Be all there. Take pleasure in your work. Enjoy your play. Address the pain as needed, but soak up the entire, beautiful day. Be thankful for the limitations that help you do all these things with more awareness.
You’re a Chronic-Thriver. You’re not broken, but you are here. And YES, YOU CAN 100% suffer pain and 100% live life and be 100% thankful to God for holding you up while also helping you live whole. Your pain is a repetitive chorus, but it doesn’t have to become your main theme.
There’s more for you than this.