My whole life I’ve been an extrovert. I thrived in social settings. Everyone I knew called me bubbly, enthusiastic, and always happy. I loved being around people. I loved having adventures, exploring, meeting new people, being silly, just laughing and having fun.
I’m not the same way anymore. I’ve been having internal battles, trying to fit into my old self when I’m in social settings, but I always come out the other end completely exhausted. It’s not that I don’t like people anymore. I actually love people. But, chronic pain changes you. I’m not the same person I used to be, and I’m trying to embrace the new me.
It’s hard to have to explain my situation over and over again. Especially when it’s not really on an uphill slope, no one knows what to say. People ask, “how are you?” with full intentions of following it up with a, “glad to hear it!” type response. So when they ask if I’m improving, they never know how to follow my answer of, “Maybe!” or “We don’t really know yet.” It’s awkward for them, and exhausting for me.
It’s also just exhausting to be out and about. When I’m in my element at home, I almost feel normal. I know my limits, and I’ve figured out how to make things work every day. But when I’m outside of the comforts and conveniences of home, it’s a constant reminder that I am in fact far from normal. And sometimes I don’t like that reminder.
Everything is harder when you’re in pain. It drains you. And when you’re not in pain, you find yourself being extra careful so that you can stay in this pain-free state for as long as possible. Either that, or you become almost frantic, trying to get as much done as possible while you feel up to the task.
People who haven’t experienced chronic pain can’t understand what you’re feeling. So you end up with two scenarios from people. One is the over-sympathetic. They feel so sorry for you that they try to help you with everything, unintentionally taking away your already lessened independence. The other scenario is the people who play it down. They don’t know how to act, so they tease you about it to try and lighten the mood, or they ignore your condition completely, which often makes you feel isolated and helpless in whatever level of your disabled state.
So, it ends up being easier to just stay home with the people you’re most comfortable with, in an environment where you can function at your highest. This is the place where you don’t have to put on a face. You can be happy when you feel happy, and you can be honest when you feel sad. You can get up and do what you can when your pain levels are low, without people looking at you confused about your ups and downs, wondering if you are just a faker. Fresh air and visits with friends are great (and healthy), but sometimes it’s easier to just stay in the comfortable environment that allows you to feel whatever you’re feeling.
So, after over a year of suffering from chronic pain, I can say that it changes you. I am not quite the same bubbly, spontaneous, excited person that I used to be. But I’m learning to be okay with that. I still love people, and I still love life. I just appreciate it in a different way than I did before. I’m working on being happy in my new way of life, by being grateful for the little things, and not holding too high of expectations for myself.
This post is a little more transparent than I usually write. I guess I’m sharing this in hopes of reaching other people who are going through a hard time. I want people to know that it’s okay to FEEL. Life is a journey. No one is the same from start to finish, and just because an experience changes you doesn’t mean you’re becoming lesser. It’s evident throughout history that people adapt to survive. Change is scary, and we try to revert back to the safety zones of our past when faced with new challenges. But just remember that it’s okay to be yourself in whatever state yourself is in. I like to think of trials as opportunities. They’re opportunities to grow, to change, to break the mold, to learn, to discover your own strength, and to reach out and bless others in a way you never would’ve otherwise been able to do. If this life is about loving and serving others, then challenges are an essential piece in building human relationships and understanding each other as people.
Don’t be afraid. You’ll never be the person you used to be… life’s not meant for that to happen. Even if the butterfly loved its previous life, it will never be able to turn back into a caterpillar. It must learn to love its new view of the world. So, the important thing is to keep moving forward. Embrace your battle scars. They will give you beautiful wings to see the world in a new way, and contribute to a new cause.
My chronic pain has changed me. We still don’t know if this condition is temporary or permanent, and it’s been a long journey. But I’m learning to embrace the new me, find the new butterfly wings, and fly.