As many of you know, I have had my share of struggles over the past few years, trying to successfully navigate a few changes of direction along my life’s course, in particular injury, medical retirement from my career as a firefighter/paramedic and ongoing pain issues. I’ve had my fair share of angst-ridden freak outs about what I was going to do with my life, how I was going to define myself, what labels applied. At the end of last year, though, I vowed to ditch the labels, to stop worrying about what I was going to tell people ‘I do’ and to just be. (gosh darn it, I’m good enough!)
Before my injury if you had asked me to define myself I would have replied “I’m a firefighter”. Being a firefighter seemed to encapsulate all that I was. I helped people, I was a team player, I was physically and mentally strong, I was active and always doing something, I was a problem solver.
And then, very suddenly, I wasn’t.
Who am I?
With the loss of that one label, firefighter, I lost who I was. For a long time.
I slowly started to realize, through a long process you can follow by going back through my archived blog posts, that I didn’t lose myself the day I left the fire department. That my identity wasn’t ‘firefighter’, that my self-worth wasn’t tied up in my occupation.
I had been a firefighter because of who I was as a person, I was not who I was as a person because I was a firefighter.
But even though I came to that understanding and accepted that I was no longer a firefighter, I merely replaced that label with ‘medically retired firefighter’ for a while. Still feeling lost, still not knowing who I was. Pain made it hard to think about such existential questions such as ‘who am I?’ and ‘what is the meaning of my life?’.
A chronic pain label
So I became a ‘person with chronic pain’ and for a long time I felt that the label encapsulated all that I was. I became my pain. Pain consumed my thoughts, my actions, my life. I battled it, I tried to accept it, I managed it. I failed at it. I wasn’t able to overcome it, to get past it, to get on with life. ‘It’ was a big IT. IT was everything.
It took along time to understand that I was not my pain, that my pain didn’t define me. That pain was just a part of me, along with all the other parts that make me me. That I was much more than my pain and that I didn’t have to wait for the pain to be gone to fully express who I was, who I am. That I could live a valued and meaningful life now.
We don’t need a label to define us. So rather than trying to define who I am, I am going to live who I am.
How, you may ask?
By walking my path. By pursuing what matters to me and not worrying (so much) about what anyone thinks of it. By writing and sharing my story – my insights on the things I’ve learned along the way, my failures and successes. I get asked a lot about how I manage my pain, so I’m going to get into the details, the nitty gritting, the good, the bad, and the ugly. There may not be answers there but there may be guideposts.
By talking about pain. Nothing will change in the world of pain management if we can’t just talk about it. I think that dialog and narrative are immensely important to figuring out a life with pain. Hell, just for figuring out life. We learn about the world, others, ourselves, through story and metaphor, after all.
By sharing everyday beauty and what inspires me. One of my best pain strategies is getting out into nature, taking pictures, walking, feeling at home in my surroundings. Taking the attention off me – off my hip, off my stresses and worries – and paying attention to the world around me. Noticing the small things, finding beauty and peace and calm.
That may not speak to everybody, but I have finally realized that it doesn’t have to.
I’m not writing for everyone, I’m writing for you, the reader who somehow connects with the words I put on the page.
For a long time, I didn’t think anyone would be interested in reading anything I had to write. On the other hand, for those few folks that I figured would stumble across my words, I worried that they wouldn’t like it. I worried about how what I had written would be received by patients or practitioners or my friends and family. I worried I wouldn’t pass muster.
(Trust me, I’m aware that it makes little sense to think no one will read what you’re going to write on one hand and to worry incessantly that people will read what you’ve written and not like it on the other.)
I’ve written a lot in my journals and endless emails and Facebook messages to various individuals. In grad school I’d posted lengthy discussion posts on all things pain and movement. But I’ve only recently started sharing those written thoughts with you folks.
It was scary at first, but I have received unbelievable support and encouragement from folks, so thank you. Thank you for your push, your nudge, your willingness to stick it out through my attempts at making this thing work. The whole reason I started this blog was to share my thoughts with the world, after all. But I’ve been reluctant and afraid.
Now I’m trying to be comfortable just being me, all of me, and to be comfortable just putting me out there.
This is what matters to me.
I still don’t know what I’m doing, but at least I’m doing it ;)
A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song. ~Maya Angelou
Thanks for reading my post, folks! And for sticking with me as I figure this all out. Without this blog and without you, I wouldn’t be where I am right now. I’ve started my book! That’s right…I started my freaking book! I don’t know what it’s going to look like, right now. I’m just writing – about pain, about identity issues, about management strategies, about pain science, about life.
I know I’m going to suck at it, but that’s ok. And I’ll only get better at writing through writing. So, phew. That’s off my chest. I’m not going to be a chicken anymore! On another note, if you like what you’ve read, please share with your friends! Or sign up for the monthly-ish newsletter where I include some bonus content in the form of an essay and interesting links to recent research, news stories, and recipes, always recipes. I love food.
Go forth and be awesome, folks. Go after what matters to you.