Growing Up

    One step forward, two steps back

    Bridget Kelley

    More stories from Bridget Kelley

    I’ve been trying really hard over the past eight weeks or so to really focus on taking care of myself. I’ve been eating well, working out, getting up early and all the other stuff that makes me feel like I have it together.

    Then life happened. More specifically, my chronic pain happened, and I was frustrated. In fact, I was angry.

    I had been doing everything right. I was sticking to my plan and I just couldn’t understand why this was happening to me. I do this every time I have a flare-up.

    I live my day-to-day life with a baseline of pain. Most days, my pain is manageable with proper medication. Other days, my pain is nagging at me and it’s all I can focus on. This was one of those days.

    It’s frustrating to continue to exist like this. There was one time in high school where I had to sit out of cheer practice because I was in so much pain. I couldn’t bear to stand, let alone jump or stunt or tumble. I thought that I would eventually grow out of the fact that my body has limitations that other bodies do not. I’m still waiting.

    I’m not just waiting, either. I’m trying. I’ve tried just about everything under the sun: yoga, dieting, positive thinking, surgery, medication and herbal tea, just to name a few of the things that have been suggested to me.

    One major thing that helps reduce my pain is reducing my stress. This, however, is not an easy feat as an extremely Type-A person who is always operating at 110 percent. I don’t quite know how to reduce my stress, but I know that working out seems to help.

    And here we are again, at the beginning. What it all boils down to is a vicious cycle of stress. I can’t handle a full workout in my state of pain, but I can handle a short walk outside or on the treadmill — something light that still gets me moving without causing me too much pain.

    There are days where I physically cannot get out of bed. These are the days where I’m not going to even consider working out. But, on better pain days, I’m going to try to force myself to get up and out, even if it’s just for 10 minutes.

    It’s amazing how my outlook changes when I do get out. I have less of a disdain for my body and more of an appreciation for how much it can do. On days when I have higher pain, I can sense a feeling of hopelessness, which makes sense — chronic pain is linked to higher levels of depression.

    Despite more people in the United States having chronic pain than those with heart disease, diabetes and cancer combined, it’s very easy to feel alone. What helps the most, though, is my friends and family who listen to me.

    In an opinion piece that the New York Times published last month, Haider Warraich, a cardiologist, wrote about how chronic pain patients should be treated with compassion and empathy.

    Empathy from the people around me doesn’t necessarily cure the inflammatory processes in my body, but it does help. It’s so easy to feel like I’m taking two steps backward for every step forward, but it’s easier to move on when I have people I can lean on.

    Okay, that’s enough clichés for the day. In all seriousness, though, things are always better when there are people who care.

    Kelley can be reached at [email protected].