Saturday, December 30, 2006

Dealing with pain and disability.

I read an article in a chronic pain magazine about Annette Funicello's battle with MS a while back, and I've been meaning to post on it for some time so here it comes. A quick warning, this will be lengthy.

The article I read mentioned how even though people knew she had the condition, she never "appears" as if she is suffering even though it is quite common to do so. Her reason can be summed up in a quote I read which went like this; "I think you only have two choices in this kind of situation. Either you give in to it or you fight it. I intend to fight."

After the first 5 years of my own chronic condition I came to this same conclusion, but somehow I saw it as logical and not something anyone else may need to hear so I really kept it to myself. But in recent days I have observed others in my life with chronic conditions who are not accepting the situations they deal with enough to fight the outward appearance no matter what they are feeling internally.

I found the reason that I don't allow myself to show many outwards signs is because I don't want others to pity me, or look at me any differently because of my disability. Sure I will talk about my condition to help people understand, but my only motivation is for others to be aware of my limitations to physical contact. (Not to say I haven't tried to do things with the result being some very severe consequence, but that too is a learning process which sometimes takes trial and error to discover the boundaries). However even through the sometimes rigorous trials of even everyday life, I do this not for my own sake but for the emotional well being of those around me, whom without my self control would be targets to lash out at in anger (more at the pain than for anything they might have done).

In particular there have been 2 other people that I am in direct (though infrequent) contact with which made me realize that the coping skills I developed may not be to everyone what I saw as a logical conclusion.

The first of these individuals I watched very harshly (quite rudely for that matter) speak to someone they call a friend, simply because this friend was performing a simple ability that the disabled individual could no longer manage for any length of time. This act was the simple act of standing, but the disabled person was so caught up in how they couldn’t do it that they took it out on their supposed friend. This is what I meant at the end of the last paragraph, if those of us who suffer don’t accept that we are and may forever suffer we will lash out in jealousy at those able bodied around us.

The second person I know was disheveled, lethargic and had an attitude of discontent when I ran into him the other day. Now I am in ABSOLUTELY NO WAY saying that he should be clean shaven and immaculately dressed, his appearance was mentioned only because it helped me understand that he is not at all coping well with his condition (which is the same as mine) even on vast amounts of Opiates. After talking to him I also found that he had not accepted his condition and is aggressively searching out a cure.

This attitude of not accepting said condition is extremely common among chronic illness sufferers. Unfortunately this can cause more harm than good, which is apparent after learning that this individual’s condition has worsened because of the continued search for treatment options and therapies that will cure him. When I decided to discontinue taking opiates for pain relief I understood that my amount of daily pain was going to increase exponentially, but that knowledge was very helpful in dealing with it. The key was having a mindset change from doing everything I could to get rid of the pain to one of knowing I will have to deal with, so I needed to learn to balance my activities to manage my condition and for the rest I just have to suck it up and deal with it!

At a men’s breakfast today I heard someone very succinctly describe “Joy”. He said that joy is an attitude that is outside the situation which we are currently experiencing, experiences which would normally cause more negative attitudes. My attempt to revisit his wisdom is a little longer, but I hope it conveys the information appropriately. It is up to us to experience joy through whatever we are dealing with, and this can only be found through Christ. This is not mere happiness which can be obtained by the simple act of receiving a gift, but true joy through even the worst circumstance and even further to outwardly glorify God by actions indicative of someone with the joy of Christ. Unfortunately neither of these fellow sufferers show anything near this joy, one because they don’t know the Lord, and the other because they haven’t dealt with the self centered issues of betrayal, disappointment, bitterness and jealousy just to mention a few.

How do I get this joy? What does it feel and look like? I can’t answer that because God will encourage each person differently, but it will look outwardly the same for everyone. It will manifest itself in the visible attribute of the gift of the Holy Spirit, Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Unfortunately these will be more obvious to others than to ourselves, and if we fail to listen to those around us (no matter who they are) that point out our shortcomings in these areas we will be unable to correct ourselves. There is a way to have this joy, but it takes a lot of self examination to align your mind with scripture, and sometimes very pointed truths by others that will be a severe blow to your pride and your feelings.

I’ll be honest, I feel like I stumbled onto this by accident (though I don’t really believe in accidents, I’m sure the understanding was given to me by God). Nonetheless it is still something I work towards in an ongoing battle against the pain and limitation I deal with.