The Erosion of Confidence: How Chronic Pain Can Affect Your Life
The Day I Lost My Life
If someone had told me five years ago that my life would turn on a dime, all upside down and unfamiliar, I'd have laughed at them. I'd probably have said something like, "You're out of your mind. I am strong and hale, and fully aware of my body's needs. It ain't gonna happen. Not to me."
Funny how that works.
When I say "turn on a dime", I am not exaggerating. One day I was perfectly well. Dashing through my life with the passion of a teenager, the curiosity of a toddler, and the power of a woman who'd lived through lots of tough times...and came out smelling like a rose. I was as hale and hearty a specimen as you'd ever meet; with nary a care in the world about maladies or other physical limitations. In short, I thought I was impervious to afflictions of any kind. Not naïve. Just incredibly confident.
I woke up and everything changed. Literally. I was in so much pain I couldn't move. There was no one around to help me out of bed, so I laid there for a long time, trying to get my mind to work. The pain was impairing that too. In short order, I was in a panic. Nothing like this had ever happened to me and I was at a loss for what to do. Finally, I picked up the phone and called someone. As I laid there in bed, waiting for her to show up, all I could think was, "Oh my God. What in the world is going on here?"
When my friend arrived, she took one look at me and tried, unsuccessfully, to mask her fear. She'd never seen me sick, let alone like this, and it scared the hell out of her. She helped me out of bed and through my morning rituals, then fluffed up the pillows, made me some soup, fed me a bunch of Tylenol and went back to her job. After she left, I laid there and cried. For hours. Until I was all cried out and fell asleep.
That day was the beginning of the most curious and inexplicable journey I'd ever traveled. It was the day my life as I'd known it, died. It was a long, slow, horribly painful death. But it taught me some of the most valuable lessons I'd ever learned.
That day is where this missive begins.
Tools, Fools and Tenacity
People who knew me Before the Death Experience (hereafter marked BDE) were shocked by the physical changes that seemed to occur overnight. My muscle mass disappeared. My weight went from 128 pounds of solid muscle to 106 pounds of bones. I looked like a person suffering from anorexia. My skin changed. My once shiny, luxurious hair fell limp around my face. My movement was stuttered and weak. I was, in essence, the total opposite of my physical presence BDE.
I. on the other hand, was too busy researching and looking for answers to worry over my clothes falling off my frail and fragile body. I went to see every imaginable kind of practitioner; from MDs to Holistics to Chinese Medicine and everything in between. Even went to see a lady who claimed to be connected to other-worldly beings who could help. I mean to say, no stone went unturned. I approached the mystery of this sudden upheaval with the same tenacity as I'd always approached every challenge before it. I would not be denied. I wanted answers and I wasn't going to quit til I had them. I was, for all intents and purposes, a woman on a mission.
Not surprisingly, I met quite a few fools along the way. One who told me that I was holding a previous life persona, an evil, hateful man who had abused and killed many during his reign of terror some thousand years ago. Another person told me I was channeling an ancestor. One of the MDs I saw said that I would be in a wheelchair before the year was out. Still another told me that I could count on living the rest of my life on pain killers and other nasty drugs. With each fool I met, I asked myself who was the bigger fool: me or them. But still, I refused to accept all the various diagnoses; none of which made an ounce of sense in my gut. I had relied on my intuition and intellect my whole life. I wasn't about to dismiss either at this point. In my gut I knew they were wrong. And I knew that no matter what I heard, I wasn't going to feed on that crap...come hell or high water, I would conquer whatever it was that had ambushed me in the prime of my life.
When I look back on it now, I'm quite certain it was my tenacity that kept me from putting a gun to my head. As much as it hurt, I just would not believe that there were no answers. I would not accept that I was going to spend the rest of my life in pain, on drugs, withered to nearly nothing. That was not what I had in mind when I thought of "my life".
It's hard to remember exactly when it happened. Somewhere along the way I realized that I'd lost my confidence. Not in terms of my ability to conquer the malady. But in everything else. The woman who could do anything was gone. Things that had previously seemed nothing more than little challenges suddenly became monsters under the bed. I was terrified.
Confidence had always been my go-to weapon. No matter the situation, no matter how unfamiliar or daunting, no matter who was involved. I was a cocky, self-assured little scamp from the time I was in grade school. Admittedly, much of that confidence was feigned. I wore it like armor to defend my tender underbelly. But feigned or not, it worked. It worked for everything. Jobs, relationships, adventures, moving across country (more times than I can count). So when it went away, it was as if I'd been exposed to the harshest of environs, without a stitch of clothing or a matchstick to be found. I was bare and vulnerable and standing alone in completely unfamiliar territory.
Not a good place to be.
The erosion of that confidence happened so gradually that I didn't notice it until it was too late. But once I did (notice its disappearance), I withdrew back into my safe haven and shut the world out. I stopped going out to visit friends. I stopped having anyone to my place. I pretty much stopped all semblance of interaction with anyone but my sisters and a very few close friends. I was simply too afraid to go out of my house without my armor. It was one of the most insidious affects of the malady. Because I couldn't really tell it was happening...until it had. By then, there wasn't any way I could fake it. My level of self esteem had dropped to unrecognizable levels. It was at that moment, the moment when I became fully aware of the absence of confidence, that I also realized the death of the person I had been. She was gone. All that remained was the shell of who she'd been....AND the Truth of Who I Am.
You'd think that would have been enough.
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Before and After
Short of writing a novel here, I suppose it'd be good to wrap things up. There was, at onset, a point to be made and it appears that I've strayed a bit...but I shan't apologize for that. Sometimes, you've just got to go with the flow, you know? So then....
My intention was to paint a picture of how a physical malady can undermine the entirety of your Being. It can destroy your life as you knew it, and force you to rebuild a new life. For some it can be the proverbial last straw in an already dismal life. For others, it is an opportunity to stretch beyond what you knew, who you were, how you interacted, and move into more of the You that is You.
The latter is precisely what happened in my experience. Because of my innate leanings (as a "warrior") and because my life BDE was so awesome, I refused to put that gun to my head and say adios. I wanted more. I wanted more Life. I wanted more experiences. I wanted more Joy. And I wasn't about to let something as silly as chronic pain dissuade me. I'm stubborn that way. There are those who call me a "brat". I smile whenever I hear this accusation. Because in my world, a brat is someone who demands to have what she wants...and gets it. What's so wrong with that???
Chronic pain is no walk in the park. It is not for the faint of heart nor the weak of mind. Chronic pain will destroy every single notion you ever had about you and your life. It will unravel your world faster than an ice cube melts on a hot summer day. And, as I've spent so many words relaying, it will completely undo any semblance of confidence you may have had prior to its arrival. But there is a benefit to all of it. A benefit that goes far beyond the pain endured or the upheaval of one's world.
The benefit lies in the uncovering of one's True Self. Once confidence hits the highway, and all you have left is the essence of your Self, there is nowhere left to go but IN. The erosion of confidence is much like the peeling back of layers. Little by little, moment by moment, you reveal your own beauty, your own strength, your own purpose for being. Even when it's terrifying. If you will face that fiendish terror and laugh in its face, you will move onward...and upward...by simply daring to go inward. And then...
That is when a new kind of confidence arrives. It has nothing to do with the outer manifestations of your supposed Self. It has everything to do with the absolutely exquisite Being that you are. And that kind of confidence is far more valuable than the superficiality that most people live in for most of their lives. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing. The pain I experienced for all those years was worth finding the Me that I am now. I like her a whole lot better than the person I was BDE.