People are often surprised when I share that I live with chronic pain. I am often bubbly, energetic, and always moving. I’m also young, “too young” for the kind of chronic pain I’ve lived with for most of my life. But due to issues when I was young, a car accident, and extended use of my shoulders as a live-in caregiver, most days I am in pain.
Some days it’s only a 3 on a 10-point scale. Most days it lives around a 6. But on occasion my back pain will reach a 9 or 10 and lay me out on the ground for hours. This can become problematic with a busy ministry schedule and a high-energy toddler, and so I’ve found self-care to be absolutely necessary in my life with chronic pain.
There are a lot of dimensions to self-care (see below), but I wanted to write about my own experience with finding healing, relief, and function in the midst of chronic pain.
Sleep, Prayer, and Meditation
Pain is often increased during periods of stress.
Knowing and understand the way that stress can increase my pain means seeking ways to lower stress in my every day life. First is with doing my best to sleep well. This isn’t always possible with a toddler in the home. And it’s not always possible as someone who lives with anxiety and insomnia. To be honest there are times where I probably should have gone to sleep, but didn’t.
The most recent level-10 pain event occurred shortly after I had stayed up too late working on a project. I felt fine in the midst of the project and was excitedly typing away. Then the following evening I found myself in tears and unable to sleep because the pain was so much. Sleep is important!
And I’m going to say that again because I always need to hear it too. Sleep is important!
Along with sleep, I find myself creating space for meditation and prayer. Sometimes this is the desperate prayer of someone in pain asking for God’s comfort and healing. Other times this is the prayer for peace and comfort in the midst of stress. God’s presence even in my worst pain has been a tremendous gift. Because of that calming presence I can often think straight enough to grab some ibuprofen or ice (or at least ask Greg to bring me those items).
Exercise & Professional Help
I am often looking for ways to prevent or reduce my pain. So I exercise, which isn’t always easy when dealing with pain. Often I would much rather stay at home and lay in bed than work out or go for a walk. But building strength and endurance is an important part of preventing big pain events and lowering my everyday pain level. So I do it. Most days.
Also a part of physical self-care for me means seeking professional resources for pain relief. The occasional massage or regular chiropractor visit can mean multiple days at a level 2 or 3 for pain. It’s a gift from God that someone else can help bring some relief in the midst of difficult times of pain.
Why write about this?
Writing about some of the ways I deal with chronic pain feels a bit off-topic from my normal blog posts. But the truth is living with pain is something a lot of us are going through. Often silently. I know I have many members of my own congregation who have experienced the tears and immobility of pain. So I want to share my own experience with this and the ways God has been active in my self-care in the forms listed here and many others.
Because even with all the tools and resources, the pain doesn’t always go away. It has been so important for me to find God in the midst of the pain, as a presence of comfort, as an empathetic support, and as a place to throw my curse words when the pain level gets too high. God is here for it.
What are ways you experience God’s presence in the midst of pain or difficult times in your life? How might you incorporate self-care into your daily activities?