I’ve had a long, sordid affair with ankylosing spondylitis (AS) -- over 20 years to be exact. It hasn’t been a good kind of relationship, unfortunately. But I have to admit it has provided many lessons and has taken my life on an interesting journey.
At first, I believed chronic pain to be the very embodiment of Sauron, the evil deity from The Lord of the Rings. It was the one evil eye constantly on the lookout for Frodo, forcing him to hide and stay in the shadows. Chronic pain has a way of doing that to you.
I’ve now come to understand that chronic pain was really Gandalf in disguise, the wise old sage guiding Frodo on his epic journey to Middle Earth.
I totally relate to Frodo. Poor, tired Frodo growing weary with each step and with such a heavy burden to bear -- carrying the ring and saving mankind.
Pain Is a Signal
Has chronic pain, whether it’s physical or emotional, become a burden to you, too? Is it one you just don’t want to deal with anymore?
Our bodies are in pain for a reason. Physical pain, in my case, results from AS. And living with it for 2 decades has helped me realize that when I have emotional pain, it means something is out of alignment in my life. It’s there to bring my attention and awareness to what isn’t working for me anymore.
Are you in a job you hate and your soul is screaming, “Get me outta here?” But you stay because your mind screams back, “We need this deadbeat job for the money so we can pay the bills.”
Are you in a relationship that has gone way past the expiration date?
You know it’s time to say “Bye Bye Bye” (cue the guys from NSYNC). But you stay because it’s easier to do so than step into your truth.
Don’t Ignore It
Pain starts out as an ache or tingle. It's so easy to ignore it because this teeny-tiny pain is so small that it doesn’t interfere with your family or your work.
Before you know it, the pain becomes a pest following you around everywhere. This reminds me of Gollum stalking Frodo throughout The Lord of the Rings -- a very similar situation.
Hey, you didn't ask for this special teacher to enter your life. It started off small while you were minding your own business. Over time, the pain gradually got worse -- stealing your freedom, your confidence, and your independence.
But here’s the thing: Life is meant to be challenging. If everything was predictable and easy, then life would be very boring indeed.
Without challenges, how would we grow? How would we learn the necessary lessons to put us back on the right path so we can evolve, gain inner strength, and cultivate resilience?
Looking back on my life, I wish I hadn’t been so hard on myself. Being a high achiever, I constantly pushed myself in my corporate job and at home.
Unfortunately, I didn’t hold a space of compassion for myself. I was consistently trying to prove my worth and value to others and to myself.
I believed I could still do all the things I was able to do before the pain, but in retrospect, I was fooling myself and caused damage to my body and spirit.
It Doesn’t Have to Define You
So what would I say to you if you’re feeling hopeless and lost because of your chronic pain -- whether it’s physical or emotional? Here it is: Pain doesn’t define you unless you let it.
You really do have a choice. Learn to accept who you are right now and embrace all the lessons that pain is teaching you in this moment. You’re worthy, unique, and here to do amazing things.
I can tell you from experience that once you learn to accept your new reality, you’ll slowly start to believe how amazing your life can truly be.
Can you open your mind and heart and look deep within to see what the pain you're struggling with is trying to teach you? Are you able to show yourself compassion and accept that you don’t have to do it all?
You have absolutely nothing to prove to anyone. You’re worthy simply because you exist.
I’m so grateful for the lessons ankylosing spondylitis (aka Gandalf) has taught me. My eyes have been opened to so many possibilities -- things I wouldn’t have dreamed possible if it weren’t for this disease.
Photo Credit: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / DigitalVision via Getty Images