There are many lessons that can be learned, while trying to adjust and learn to live with chronic pain / illness. It can be difficult to remember to focus on the lessons and opportunities that can be found in the difficult and dark times of illness, but it's healthy to recognize that we're still growing... perhaps just differently than we previously anticipated - there are lessons I've learned over the past 3.5 years (since my accident) that I may not have had the chance to learn, otherwise (however, I wish they didn't have to be such painful lessons... oh well, such is life). Here are some of the lessons I've learned / am learning:
Never take life for granted! We aren't promised the next moment, so we must appreciate life here and now, in the present. Hug, love, laugh, share... make sure you show your love and appreciation to those that are there for you. Do it today... do it now... because everything you have today could be gone in a moment.
Learn how to say "no." I don't think of myself as having been a "yes" person, but I don't like having to tell people "no." Living with chronic illness has made saying "no" more of a necessity. It's not healthy for me to always say "yes" to people... not to mention, my future is so unsure / uncertain (I can't know how I'm going to be affected by my illness at any specific time) - I answer with "yes, but..." (a side note that I may have to cancel at the last minute) or "no," because I simply don't know whether I'll physically be able to do something. I have to thoughtfully consider my own limitations. Thus, I'm learning more about myself.
Trust your gut. I've always been pretty good at listening to my intuitions and trusting my gut instincts, but I randomly struggle with it. When it's related to health, things can get a bit tricky. We place our trust in doctors, and it's intimidating to even consider contradicting or questioning our doctors. But, if you disagree and / or are uneasy with the treatment plan your doctor recommends, you should discuss it with him / her. If you know that something just isn't quite right with your body, you should keep asking questions and seeking treatment (even if you have to go to multiple doctors to try to find some answers).
I feel like living with chronic pain has taught me to listen to my body better. I'm much more aware of when something I feel is different or "off." I don't think I really paid much attention to the subtleties of my body before having chronic pain / illness.
One difficulty with this, though, is that the pain can cloud your thinking. It can be difficult to judge whether something is, for example, bad enough to justify a trip to the emergency room. I know that I have a huge struggle with making any kind of decisions, when my pain gets very bad... so, I'm still working on this.
Acknowledge and accept limitations. This has been a huge struggle for me. I've never liked limitations, and especially not the strict ones that my chronic illness creates for / imposes on me. One of the most important things here, I believe, is to remember that acknowledging and accepting limitations does NOT mean you're "giving up" or "giving in" to the disease. It's just being more aware of what you can and cannot do, and living life within those borders.
I'm not able to spend much time in the sun. I have to break up tasks into baby steps. I have to take frequent breaks. I have to take so much into consideration, when deciding whether or not to do something (where it's at, what the lighting / sound / smells / etc will be like there, who will be there, how long I'll be out, how much walking / standing / sitting is required, etc...). It's definitely an ongoing process to accept the limitations and learn to live with / around them, but I'm learning.
Learn to be flexible. I've always been a planner, and I can't do that anymore because I can't know how I'm going to feel in the future (even in the next 5 minutes). I'm learning how to plan differently, by making lists of things that I need (or want to do) - I write if there's a deadline or specific priority to it, otherwise I don't put a date on it and just tackle things as I feel able to.
My husband and I are having to learn to "wing it," by just taking things one thing at a time. That sometimes means we cancel plans at the last minute, which both of us absolutely hate - we don't like it affecting / impacting other people. We've actually brought some humor to the necessity to "wing it" (much thanks to my husband for always being able to make me smile / laugh) - it makes things a bit more bearable, but it's still frustrating (especially when it impacts others).
Be patient. One of the lessons that can be learned from living with chronic illness is patience. What a huge challenge this is for me! Being patient is reinforced by many of the challenges and limitations we face - we live each moment not knowing what the next moment will hold... when the pain is going to worsen or return. It's a learning process to be able to live in the moment and truly enjoy what is happening in the present.
Learn how to ask for and accept help / assistance from others. I'm so used to being the one to help others... it has been very difficult for me to learn how to ask for help from others... and then to be able to accept that I need help, as well as the help that others offer me. It's an ongoing process, but I've gotten better at it. I don't like feeling that I can't do so many things, especially simple things that most people never consider to be a challenge at all. But, I've found that it's usually more painful to refuse to ask for help, than it is for me to accept the help of others... if nothing else, it's easier on my physical health... it's still a struggle emotionally.
There are many other lessons I've learned and / or am learning, but these are some pretty important ones.
Lessons: Learning the Hard Way (Part 1)
Lessons: Learning the Hard Way (Part 2)
Lessons: From Suffering to Empowered
Lessons: Learning From Life With Chronic Pain
Lessons: Learning to Accept Imperfection (Part 1)
Lessons: Learning to Accept Imperfection (Part 2)
This post was written as part of the Health Activist Writer's Awareness Challenge (HAWMC).