Papercut and colored pencil art by Sheryl Aronson X 5

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I Am Not My Illness (Or Am I?)

I frequently remind people that they have many facets, that their illness is only a part of them.  When you live with a chronic illness and/or chronic pain, so much time and effort are spent managing your condition.  First there are all the doctor's appointments, therapy, taking medications and all the other routines that have to be incorporated into your daily life.  On top of that, there is the constant awareness of how you move so as to not exacerbate your pain, balancing how much of which activities you can safely manage, when and how to get your needed rest, nutrition, exercise, etc.  Time is also devoted to searching for answers, and communicating with those in your life about how you are and what you need.

It is no wonder that at times it can seem as though your illness is all you are. For many months I have had constant reminders of my pain, the two most intense areas were plantar fasciitis in my left foot, and lateral epicondyltis (tennis elbow) in my right arm.  My foot hurt whenever I walked, epecially the first few steps.  Every time I moved my arm, especially if I tried to pick something up, the outer half of my arm from the middle of my upper arm down to my wrist yelled at me.  For the most part, I continued working and doing my routines at home.  I  don't know how much the people around me could tell of how my pain affected me, but to me, it was an ever-present entity.

I got Depomedrol (steroid) injections in both these areas one week ago today.  Now I have some heel pain only if I walk barefoot, or strike my heel against something, otherwise my foot feels fine.  I am able to reach out my right arm and pick things up without pain. (Though I am still careful about trying to pick up anything heavy).  I can move my arm freely, without having to constantly be aware and careful with it.  I still have issues with my knees, it is hard for me to use stairs, and other odds and ends, but the two areas of pain which consumed most of my time and energy are, for now, 'cured'. 

It is wonderful, I feel like I have escaped from a trap, and I am free.  I am frequently amazed and excited by my ability to do every day tasks, like emptying the dishwasher, or bringing a forkful of food to my mouth, without pain.  I feel like I am redefining myself now, as a new self with a pain level that allows me to function almost 'normally'.  I like this new me, but there is a part of me that warns not to get too used to it.  "Why not?", I ask.  "Why not treat this new me as the new permanent me?" 

As odd as it may seem I also feel a little lost.  I had let my arm and my foot dictate what I did and how I did it for so long (the foot for 10 months, the arm for 7), that I am not sure how to structure my life now.  There are so many possibilities, so many things that I can and want to do, but I still have to remember not to go overboard.  I know from experience that it is too easy to overdo it when I feel good, then pay for it later.

These are the thoughts of a person who was so wrapped up in her pain that she let it define her.  Now that that particular pain is gone, I am 'undefined'.  I have an opportunity to redefine myself by my own terms, to emphasize what I want to emphasize.  My past experience has taught me that my pain doesn't actually go away, it just changes address to another body part. What if I tell my body not to accept it back in?  What if I change my thinking from "I am not my illness" to "I am an artist, a writer, a wife, a stepmother, a friend..." and leave the illness part out of my definition entirely?  Something to think about, and the subject of my next post.

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