The other day, a patient shared with me the number of years that she has suffered with her pain. She told me how she just kept going, kept pushing through, until her pain worsened to the point that she couldn’t ignore it anymore. I commented that her journey with pain is something that I have heard over and over again: we feel the pain but we push through it anyway, unwilling to spend the money or exert the effort to get better, until we have no choice. It’s like we don’t see ourselves as worth the investment.
I know I’ve wrestled with this. I have several health conditions that have given me years of chronic pain so I know firsthand how the search for answers and solutions can leave one feeling both bone-weary and heart-exhausted. Even the daily practice of using the tools that we know do work can feel too hard. We feel like a burden, an expense, and a nuisance. We exhaust even ourselves and grow tired of our laundry list of health complaints. Before long, seeking out help for both the age-old issues and random new problems can feel pointless, demanding, and something we don’t deserve.
Here’s where we are wrong. Even though adjusting to and accepting our chronic issues is important, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consistently try to make choices that relieve pain and create a better quality of life. I am reminded of the serenity prayer:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
This epitomises the balanced way I seek to handle my chronic issues: both the bravery to seek new solutions and the contentment to keep moving forward in life with my body as it is.
But even if we have no underlying diseases that cause chronic pain and chronic frustration, fixing nagging issues like a frozen shoulder, an aching knee, or a constant back ache can fall far down our list of priorities. Our pain relief doesn’t seem that important compared to our 9-5, cooking dinner or taking our kids to soccer practice. But, it is incredibly important. And, if we don’t give our health the priority it deserves, eventually, like it was with that patient I was speaking with, we will be forced to give it priority. The voice of pain eventually speaks so loudly it can’t be ignored.
At the end of the day, here’s the thing: We are worth the time and investment that taking care of our health requires. Healthcare, especially the extremely important, preventative kind, can be expensive and time-consuming. Real change takes time, especially when it comes to injuries and chronic pain. Physical therapy reflects the slowness of recovery and the number of lifestyle changes it involves. Our bodies are not machines but creatures of habit that bear the mark of years lived. As such, they require tailored, time-intensive care. Our patients see progressive change and progressive relief, but it doesn’t happen overnight, especially with those who have suffered for a long time. Patience and commitment is required if we ever expect to see results.
It can be difficult to allow ourselves this kind of time. We are used to hustling, rushing from one responsibility to the next, pushing our health down the list of priorities until it’s doubtful whether it is even on that list at all. But I’m here to tell you: you are worth the time. I am worth the time. We are all worth the investment that health, recovery, and self-care requires.
Make your health a priority, today.