I received an email late last night or in my case early this morning from one of my strong readers, I will not share his or her name but I do want to share this short, yet important email.
I recently started college and am really busy all the time. The pain is not stopping me from doing anything, yet I always feel so morose and dispirited because of the pain. How do you fight against that? I feel like that no matter what I do the pain dampers everything else and leaves me miserable.
Being a teenager or young adult with an invisible illness is basically a living hell. A hell I lived in and thankfully was able to come to the other side of but like the person who wrote this email, I used to feel the same way. I wanted to do everything and before I moved to Colorado where I hit my rock bottom I did do everything. I was in a college about two hours from home studying to be a teacher. I got very high grades and tried to participate in everything I could. I fought against the pain from trying to push myself as hard as possible and by spending a great majority of time searching for a cure. I fought and fought and fought the pain: it was a battle back then I thought I could win but like the email above says I was miserable and this cycle of pushing and fighting took me down a spiral until I did end up hitting rock bottom and gave up on life. I dropped out of school despite my good grades and dreams, I flew to Colorado and spent more than a year partying just to numb both the physical and emotional pain my invisible illness had beat me with. I then hit my rock, rock bottom and most of you know this but ended up, unwillingly going to the Pain Rehab Center in Minnesota where I learned to accept and manage pain naturally. I also learned that there is no way to fight pain, you must accept it and release your grasp of trying to do everything. It is a hard lesson to learn and practice at first, it took me a good year to see that I was still worthy even if I had to put my health first and slow down. It is not who won: the pain or Jessica: life is not a game. The more you fight and focus on pain the worse pain gets. This I know to be fact and it is a tough pill to swallow because we want to be able to do it all. The secret is this: we can do it all just not at the pace we would like to. As John Green writes: “That is the thing about pain, it demands to be felt.” But does it?
What is more important: getting amazing grades, doing awesome at sports, trying to be perfect (many people with chronic pain, including myself are perfectionists, it helps one to control what chronic pain has taken from us) or slowing down, learning how to manage chronic pain and find happiness. I am living proof that one can slow down, live with chronic pain without treatment and achieve each goal one pre-bike accident, pre-chronic pain. However, the path is least resistance and it is tremendously difficult to realize you cannot fight against the pain. Acceptance and the work it takes to focus on one’s health and management of chronic pain can take a long time. I understand more than anyone why this reader (who I beyond strong) is miserable. She is doing everything she loves yet pain has taken over and she is miserable. My advice to everyone is to not fight the pain: you will lose. You are not less than because of your invisible illness. You are not less than if you take three courses instead of five or live a very healthy, simple life. Once you see that, and believe that you will achieve exactly what you thought you were going to have to fight against for the rest of your life.