Maybe this is a memoir of sorts because I write this as I look back on 7 years of chronic illness and pain. I reflect on years when I could not remember a time that I wasn’t in pain; I reflect on years before the pain hit. I write this knowing that I’ve felt worse than I do now. I write this also knowing I have also felt better.
But I also write this as a moment in time. I write this as a person that is, in this moment, lamenting a pain that is chronic, recurring, intermittent; it ebbs and flows, and I can’t fight the current. Just when I think it’s gone for good, and I stand up tall, it can come back and knock me down. I write this in full awareness that I am being true to me, in this moment, with drama and angst and all that muck.
The truth is: words of today and several yesterdays need to come out.
Perhaps chronic pain changes a person.
Perhaps the throbbing and aching that keeps a person awake into the wee hours of the morning changes something in the psyche, or maybe it’s the cramping stiffness in her leg when she is sitting, reading her favorite book. Maybe the watching of her eyes fading from blue to grey, or the gradually paling complexion looking back at her each morning is like watching her haunt herself.
All that might change a person.
Maybe it’s the slow moan that she doesn’t even realize is coming from her as she rolls over in bed or tries to stand up, or the way it hurts her fingers to hold her lover’s hand. Maybe making love makes her cry, but not from the intimacy, and maybe the sadness in his eyes when she writhes in pain breaks a tiny fiber somewhere in her heart. Perhaps when he says, What’s wrong, and her answer is always the same quiet, I hurt, she grows weary of herself and of the truth. Because the truth is pain.
Perhaps it’s that pang of fatigue when she walks through the door after an average day at work that felt like running a marathon but shouldn’t have.
You look awful; rough day at the office?
No. Just a rough day in this body.
Maybe it’s the tightness and compression in her chest—anxiety, anger, frustration, piling and beating down on her, crippling her, screaming at her–that makes her wonder if it’s all worth it. Tears burn the eyes, and whispers tell her it’s all too much. Is it too much?
Perhaps not, but it is scary, so she remembers to breathe and she whispers the truth, It is worth it. She inhales; it hurts, but she keeps breathing in and out until it hurts a little bit less.
She runs this marathon well. She trains every day, and she knows the pain, the burn.
Perhaps one day it will be a burn like phoenix fire, and her broken wings will mend.
(Sometimes she wonders if she ever had wings in the first place.)
The waking up and the lying down in pain can transform a person. The tossing and turning, the thinking and groaning, the crying and sighing, the not sleeping, the wondering why. Mussed sheets and tired limbs are her cocoon, but she still awakens wingless.
Maybe it’s the just getting by every day that can make a person feel worthless, lazy, good-for-nothing. The limitations that pain puts on a person’s life can alter the expectations that she puts on herself. Saying, no, and, I can’t, because she had to has made her afraid to say, yes, and, I can, when she wants to.
Perhaps pain puts up a wall, brick by brick. Perhaps taking down that wall is hard for her weary hands, her woozy mind, and of course, a fickle heart.
After all, the wall protected everyone else, too, because pain lashes out, scratching and attacking, taking on her name and her identity, and before she knows it, she and pain have made a mess of it all. Maybe in her efforts to fight pain, she mistakenly fought the people she cares about.
Is it hard to love others well when a person hates her own body? Yes. So maybe she grows sorry, ashamed.
Maybe putting one swollen, aching foot in front of the other, with all its bruises and scrapes, really is all she can do some days. Perhaps being generous with her time as she once was is but a dream, and maybe opening up her heart is like opening up a wound and bleeding herself dry.
So maybe her heart has scabbed over a bit. It is more afraid. More impatient. More jaded. Perhaps out of the overflow of a hardening, scabbing heart, hardened, ugly words are spoken.
Perhaps, when she can feel the fibers of her muscles throbbing, the food in her stomach churning, the burning grinding of joints upon joints, and the heat of inflammation and pain, she struggles to be the same good friend she used to be.
Maybe that hurts like hell, maybe as much as the pain itself.
And even when the pain lessens, perhaps she is left with rubble and residue to clean up.
So much rubble. So many broken things. So much to rebuild.
Perhaps pain changes a person.
And the sick irony of being sick is that, even if the pain fades away, those changes in a person are perhaps as painful as the pain itself.