Ever get in the car and just start driving for hours on end, not even sure where you’re headed?
Yeah, me neither.
Yet that’s exactly how I feel lately. It’s not that I’m some sort of baby boomer control freak (she’s lying). Ok, maybe a few echoes of that persona still persist from my 20s and 30s. But Life has done a great job of showing me that sometimes the best things are those we never planned, controlled, pitched or imagined.
My husband? The guy sent an 8-page letter threatening legal action to the corporate conglomerate I’d recently joined (truth be told, we were being rather dickish to his smaller start-up). I was copied on that letter. A few months later, we were engaged. And in five days, we’ll celebrate 19 years of an overall pretty damn good marriage. Didn’t see that one coming!
My kid? The one you’re sick of seeing me post about on Facebook? Not what you’d call a planned pregnancy. But clearly she was ready to show up and show up she did (in the most dramatic of ways). Now, I can’t even begin to imagine my life without her to share the fun. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for that creative and loving goofball of a soul. She totally rocks and I adore the shit out of her. Again, surprise!
Favorite work to date? A decade of blood donation advocacy and professional speaking that came out of the blue after nearly croaking and burning through San Francisco’s blood supply in record time (see “pregnancy” above). All began when an executive from Johnson & Johnson sat in one of my audiences and asked my husband to have me call him. A few months later, my occasional pro bono talks for blood centers and Rotarians had transformed into a full-time paid speaking tour, with no requirement to tattoo the J&J logo on my forehead, let alone mention them. Who knew?!
So here I am on a journey to fuck-if-I-know-where and I have no clue as to what it’s leading me to, if anything at all. It’s the journey of chronic, at times calm and at other times mind-numbingly debilitating, physical pain and loss of mobility–today being one of my more challenging days. (You know it’s bad when you have to leave your gentle restorative yoga class after only five minutes of what most able-bodied people would think wasn’t worth the time it took to pull on their yoga pants.)
This against-my-will journey has been underway for a good five years—the prior eleven being no picnic either where my wellness was concerned. But I had no idea that the road would get even bumpier than it already was. Pain has a way of coloring everything you do, see, feel, believe. Instead of the rose-colored glasses I wore in my younger pre-medical-crap days, too often chronic pain is like viewing life through tar-colored glasses. Dark indeed.
This journey has taken me to places I wouldn’t have otherwise explored, and for that I’m grateful. I love new experiences and marvel at the immeasurable ways to tackle and perceive this mysterious thing called Life. I’ve experimented with all manner of approaches to wellness from the mainstream (take this pain med and go away until it’s time for another surgery) to the downright laughable (if spending tens of thousands of dollars to experiment is your idea of funny). Some things work, some don’t. Among those that work, some days they do, some days they don’t.
The upside of pain is the noticeable increase in my sense of compassion for others, knowing that they may be masking their own pain—be it physical or emotional—much in the same way that I tend to do when I’m out in the world…or even at home with my family. (Hearing myself whine about pain bores me, so I’d rather not. Except now. In this post about pain.)
Pain also helps me connect with others with whom I might not otherwise, like the guy with the amputated leg who swims at my pool and who, like me, didn’t expect his health to take the turn it did. Or the older woman with whom I shared a water jogging lane recently. When I jokingly lamented about the activities I could no longer do, without an ounce of judgment in her voice she responded, “Well…perhaps we’re meant to do different things at different stages in our lives.” Sure, it’s a pretty simple concept, but her words helped me more than she knows.
And recently when pain and insomnia kept me awake all night and I blogged about it, I was flooded with emails from women who were dealing with their own physical ailments and the challenge of remaining positive—or even mildly optimistic—that goes hand in hand with pain. I spent days having interesting and, at times, laugh out loud funny email and Facebook exchanges with several of them.
So today, as I was driving home from the pharmacy with my pain med prescriptions after bailing on gentle yoga, I was struck with the thought that maybe, just maybe, there’s a point to all this bullshit. Maybe my own journey of chronic pain is taking me to a place where I will be able to answer the question: What’s it all about, (Alfie)? Could it be that perhaps—like those two months spent screaming and hallucinating and sucking up blood transfusions in the ICU sixteen years ago—this current and unwanted journey into the bowels of chronic pain is taking me to yet another awesome and rewarding place where I can grow as a person, share what I’ve learned, and maybe even help others as they face similar circumstances? At some point, will I be able to look back at these years of two steps forward, one step back, and say, “Aha! I get it now!”? Is that where this journey is taking me?
Honestly, I haven’t a clue. But for today—and with the help of a giant snuggly poodle, five milligrams of a pain killer, and the couch—I’m hopeful.