One of the most profound things my massage therapist ever said to me went something like this: “Do you want to heal?” That’s a legitimate question. Did I want to heal? Did I believe healing to be possible?
And here’s the thing–
Chronic pain can easily feel like it’s an integral part of who you are. Your person-hood feels entwined by pain–governed by it even. It’s who you are. Or so you believe.
In the last four years, I’ve begun to see healing in the way God has radically changed my heart and mind toward pain, people, and life. But I’ve also known physical healing in the sense that I’ve chosen not to be ruled by my pain or go stagnant about my health.
Pain of any kind is a place I stand, but not a person I can ever become.
Furthermore, chronic pain will never be my destination in life. Ever! Instead, I see pain as a place of movement.
Pain helps me move toward physical healing. It helps me move toward a more compassionate heart for people. It moves (or pushes!) me toward a unique kind of ministry. Pain becomes a vessel to all sorts of healing–physical, emotional, and spiritual. And only because God is transforming this vessel of pain into beautiful movement for Him.
So let’s get practical on how to thrive while suffering chronic pain!
Work with your chronic pain as a guide to understand what your body needs rather than seeing your chronic pain as an enemy you can never conquer.
If you choose to view your pain as a guide to understanding what your body needs, YOU HAVE WON. Fight the right battle. Okay. Chronic pain is in your life. Let’s listen to it.
Be vigilant about how your body responds to different kinds of stress. Does your pain escalate after a social event? After the first few days of the work week? Is there an hour of the day that your body is asking you to slow down?
Get a notebook and write down your observations. These observations will be imperative on your journey to creating healthy boundaries.
Plan your week in a way that will allow your body to keep up. Now, that you’ve observed the nuances of your body and how it responds to different stressors in your life, you can intentionally plan your week.
On the weekend, I sit down to plan our meals. I plan for heavier-prep dinners on Monday-Wednesday, and I keep Thursday’s dinner light (and Friday is always pizza if we can help it…hehee!). By Thursday, I will most likely be exhausted, so I make a less complicated dinner. This allows me to better channel my energy into basic work responsibilities and resting.
Thursday is also my designated day for cleaning up “miscellaneous piles.” It’s easy work, and Thursday’s the perfect day for pile patrol, anyway!
I will have already done the heavier housework on the first three days of my week which allows for the next two days to be a lighter workload. I love working, but I’ve got to work strategically.
As you plan the week, create the best-case-scenario without a failure mentality. Since you know your limitations and what your body will most likely need on certain days, don’t be afraid to create a productive and purposeful plan. Be reasonable and ambitious!
Shoot for your best-case-scenario plan with an understanding that high-pain days may come unexpectedly.
However, do not shoot for your plan with a FEAR that high-pain days may come unexpectedly. There’s a big difference between an understanding of what may happen and a fear of what may happen.
(pausing to admire happy Hattie-girl who is also living her BEST life)
Write an alternate plan that will be your personal + modified measure of productivity for the high-pain days. Here’s a simple example:
On those days, productivity may mean you make your bed (eventually). You listen to an educational podcast or an interview. You have a go-to dinner that’s always in the wings for the times your energy is little-to-none. You straighten the living room and set out clothes for the next day. You go to sleep with Scripture on audio.
If this is all you can do–that’s fine! If you have to plan for less–that’s also fine! You will have accomplished your alternate plan and given your body the rest it was asking for!
Tailoring an alternate plan for yourself keeps you from feeling deflated. You’ve mentally prepared for the unexpected high-pain days. You’ve done what you can. And you’ve done it well.
When tomorrow breaks, shoot for your original best-case-scenario plan without fear!
Work to make things work! If you are listening to your body, you will understand the ways in which you can gently push yourself without hurting yourself.
If I’m having dinner out on Tuesday night and someone asks me to coffee at her house on Monday night, I can ask if she would rather come to my house for that coffee instead. I’m choosing less stress on my body, but I’m also choosing valuable time spent with my friend. I can gently push my body while still listening to my limitations.
Cultivate community right where you are. You are limited in what your body can handle, and there’s no way around that. You will have to say no. There may be some weeks you stay home every single night. There will be discouraging days.
BUT YOU CAN ALWAYS CREATE COMMUNITY RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE.
Social media makes it easier than ever. I would suggest you write encouraging letters to friends. Check in on those who also suffer chronic pain. Call your family. Make a care package for someone else. Plan low-key parties at your house (all you need is popcorn + a movie!…or coffee or tea).
Intentionally love your family and friends and do what you can to surround yourself with them. Your limitations only become a prison if you allow them too.
That’s a lot of information, but remember your pain is a place of movement. God can make it so! View your chronic pain as a guide instead of an undefeated enemy. Write down what you observe about your pain, your body, and the demands in your regular life.
Set aside time every weekend to reasonably and ambitiously plan your week. Make an alternate plan for high-pain days. Work to make things work. Create community right where you are. BECAUSE YOU CAN.
Creating healthy boundaries is vital to thriving with chronic pain. You can 100% thrive in a body that experiences chronic pain. Figure out what thriving means for you and then be ambitious, reasonable, and fearless! I can tell you one thing for certain . . . God doesn’t view chronic pain as a dead-end.
And neither should you.