The Christmas and New Year festivities are often a watershed; we look back on the past year, our successes and failures, our joys and sorrows, and reflect on what we’ve achieved (or haven’t) in our lives. Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude. The reality is that from one angle, you could easily say that my life was ruined by CRPS. I lost my ability to walk, almost all my ability to work, a career I loved, my physical fitness, many friends, much of what I felt made me myself, and the life I thought I would have. I grieved for many months. For a long time, I really couldn’t see how I would have a future that was worth living. The reality is that the constant overwhelming pain of CRPS took much from me; but is that really the whole truth of my illness and the last seven years I’ve lived with it?
Is there a silver lining?
Looked at from another standpoint, CRPS has given me everything I hold most dear. If I hadn’t developed CRPS, I would never have met my husband; I likely would have remained in the stagnant, unhappy relationship I had before, rather than creating the amazing partnership I have with my best friend and favourite person in the whole world. If I hadn’t developed CRPS, I never would have become a parent to my stepdaughter, and as anyone who knows her in real life will attest, she is a wonderful, bright, kind and inspiring young woman. Being her stepmum is the best thing that has or ever will happen to me and it feels like winning the lottery a billion times over.
If I hadn’t developed CRPS, I would have stayed living in central London for my career, and not have had the chance to live in the beautiful village where I am now. As I type, I’m looking out over my garden – I’d never had a garden before and if I’d stayed in London I don’t know if I ever would have! I have trees and flowers and birdsong and it’s beautiful. If I hadn’t developed CRPS, I wouldn’t have explored trying to write professionally; it’s a dream I’ve had from since I was tiny and I adore it. If I hadn’t developed CRPS, I wouldn’t have got my gorgeous ridiculous floofy dog (who I still love despite having to bath the mud off her after her walk this morning). If I hadn’t developed CRPS, I wouldn’t have met the amazing friends I now have in the CRPS community. They’re some of the kindest and bravest people I’ve ever encountered and I’m privileged to know them. And if I hadn’t developed CRPS I wouldn’t have the purpose I now have: I write these articles in the hope that they’ll help someone, anyone, living with chronic pain. It gives me motivation and enables me to serve my community and it’s a genuine honour.
The truths I’ve learned about myself
And finally, if I hadn’t developed CRPS I would never have realised how strong I can be. I never would have known myself as well as I do now. If you’d told me that I would live every second in severe pain for the rest of my life I would have felt hopeless and like there was absolutely no way I could do it. But I’ve learned that I am much stronger and more capable than I ever dreamed. I’ve learned that I in myself can be enough, without having to achieve professional or financial success to feel proud of myself.
So, at this time of year, when we reflect on everything most dear to us, I have to say words I never thought I’d utter: Thank you, CRPS. Thank you for giving me my family, my life, my faith in myself and my knowledge that I can overcome anything. Thank you for showing me what really matters and giving me the ability to cut through the extraneous noise. Thank you for the life I have; I wouldn’t have any of it without this hideous, awful, excruciating illness that has put me through worse pain than I ever imagined, but also given me all the beauty and joy I now possess. I wish it hadn’t happened and I also wouldn’t change it for the world.
What are other chronic pain sufferers grateful for?
I reached out to some of the CRPS community and they shared their own amazing stories of what chronic pain has given them. Clare Watts wrote:
“I’m grateful that I’ve been able to spend so much time with my beautiful granddaughter, because she’s been the light of my life for the last 2+ years. If I hadn’t got all of my problems I’d still be working 5 days 60+ hours weeks so wouldn’t have been able to see so much of her & support my daughter as much as I’ve been able to, they’ve both kept me sane on my darkest days. Plus I’d have not been able to have my two fur babies due to my long working days & commitments, & they are my comfort when I’m alone & struggling, they never leave my side. So I’m blessed to be able to have them all in my life.”
Jo O’Callaghan (who set up the amazing group Jo’s Odd Shoes commented:
“If it wasn’t for CRPS I wouldn’t have set up my Odd Shoe Group and met some amazing people who don’t only suffer from CRPS, some are amputees for other reasons. I didn’t realise that people could be so strong. If someone had told me that I would be happy with a chronic illness I’d think they were mad and wow how can amputation be a positive thing?? It just goes to show how life changes!”
Carrie Mitchell wrote:
“I’ve spent most of my adult life in pain – probably all CRPS, though we’ve no way of knowing for sure. I have a husband who loves me, family who care about me, friends I wouldn’t swap for the world, and always a shoulder when I need it. I’ve learnt to crochet, done a degree, started a second masters (CRPS ruins the first attempt), started writing a book for us all, and have dreams of a career writing from home. But the thing I treasure the most is that my two sons, who’ve grown up with their mother in this condition, have learnt that they must never ever judge. They’ve always known how to support, to remember that everyone has their own story, and that kindness and compassion are necessary, no matter what. It may be hard, but the world is far richer for having two wonderful young men in it, and if I died tomorrow, I’d die knowing what it means to be truly blessed.
Remembering what we have and what we can do is a huge step towards acceptance and living a full life. A different life, but no less worthy or fulfilling than any other life. This is the life we were destined to have and there’s no use wasting it mourning that which we were not supposed to have or be. Yes, we have pain, but we also have far more than many others could ever hope for.”
Like I said before, the chronic pain community is full of amazing people. Thank you to everyone who’s read our articles, who’s commented, emailed or Liked the Facebook blog page.
I wish everyone the merriest of merry Christmas, and a New Year that is truly filled with as much health, happiness and joy as possible. I hope that this article maybe helps someone who’s struggling to start to see the positive of what often seems like an entirely negative situation when you develop chronic pain. And I look forward to writing about everything that happens in 2019!