I had one of those days today, where you relive and rehash arguments from years, and I mean literally YEARS ago. In this case, it wasn’t even really argument I was relieving, it was one of those “this person said something I really didn’t agree with, but I didn’t have an answer to coherently explain why I didn’t agree with them, so instead I said nothing and now five/six years later am still trying to come up with what I should have said” situations.
Basically this is what happened:
I was running a training about chronic pain, and part way through one of the attendees interrupted. He started talking about people who train in martial arts, and who push through the pain. If they can do it, why can those of us suffering from chronic pain, just “push through.” Aren’t we just being too soft on ourselves? Aren’t we just not trying hard enough?
I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t think of a way to coherently explain the flaws in this argument, but fortunately as I struggled to come up with an answer, one of the other participants in the training (who also happened to be a good friend) came to my rescue and redirected the discussion.
Today, I finally figured out what I should have done.
Now, before I continue, I’d like you all to try something for me. Raise your arms above your head – right up so that they’re touching your ears, elbows straight. Now hold them there, while you keep reading.
This is an argument I’ve come across a few times. The idea that you can “push through” pain. Yes, in some situations this is true – martial arts or other sports training, getting a tattoo or piercing perhaps, getting yourself to safety after an accident, and I’m sure other situations that I can’t think of right now. The difference with all of these situations is that there is an end to them. In my younger, pre-sickness days I did play sports, and while I don’t have any tattoos I have had a few piercings done. Yes, you can hold it together even if it’s hurting when you’re training, but you can be damn sure that as the pain starts to get to you, you’ll be watching the clock waiting for it to be over. Not only have I had piercings myself, but I’ve watched other get theirs, and I’m fairly sure the phrase most often said by piercers is “almost done” indicating that people are holding on for the moment that it’s over.
How are your arms feeling? Have your shoulders dropped down a little? Are your elbows bending a little? If they are, get them back up there! I didn’t say you could drop them! Could you keep them up there for another five minutes? How about another hour? How about THE REST OF YOUR LIFE?!
Maybe you could keep them up there for an hour, but in that last five minutes you’d be watching the clock, and as soon as that hour was up you’d drop them with a big sigh of relief and satisfaction. Maybe you could keep them up there for a day, if you got to take breaks and stretch occasionally.
Unfortunately, you don’t get to take breaks from chronic pain. There’s no end point in sight either. People with chronic pain do “push through” everyday, but it’s a different type of pushing through. We have to push to get out of bed, feed ourselves, and all those other daily tasks that healthy able-bodied people can take for granted. As an able-bodied person, you can’t decide what is or isn’t possible for someone living with chronic illness. If someone tells you they can’t do something, there’s no point telling them they should push themselves, because most likely they already are.
If you haven’t already, you can drop your arms now. Feels good? Don’t take that feeling for granted.
Thanks for reading
Little Miss Autoimmune