I’ve been reflecting on the year that passed, trying to identify the best thing(s) that happened. Unlike other years, this time it wasn’t too difficult to pinpoint what I should put at the top of my list. Flipping through my memories, a few things, and people kept coming back to the surface. Much of them related to my illness and all that has happened, or hasn’t, because of it. Surprisingly, there were more good things than bad that filled my thoughts, which puts me in a positive frame of mind as this new year unfolds.
The best thing that happened to me last year, by far, was having a new surgeon assigned to my case. If I wasn’t sent to him for a second opinion, I’d probably still be sitting here with a growth in my pelvis waiting to see what might happen to it – would it grow larger or mutate into something cancerous as some speculated – and what would happen to the rest of me as a result. It took one meeting with this surgeon for things to take a more positive tone and move forward more rapidly than they had at any point since the start of my illness. Within weeks of his first assessment, I had pre-admission tests scheduled and my surgery date was set. I had surgery last August, close to the second anniversary of the frightening start of my illness, and although my recovery hasn’t been smooth, the surgical outcomes were better than anyone could have expected because the growth removed from my pelvis was benign.
The physical pain that growth introduced to my life was the catalyst for some of the other good things that are now part of my life. Because of all the pain medications I take to function daily, I had to find new ways to express myself. I started by writing a journal that focused on my pain and how I was coping with it. That journal eventually became this blog, but I soon realized I needed more to fill my life: I needed to reconnect with my creativity. I found so many creative ideas and tools online. I started an art/gratitude journal, which made me realize that who I’ve always been isn’t gone, although the fog of pain medications sometimes masks it. That spark of self-recognition helped me start writing poetry again and made me feel less disconnected and dulled. I’m also teaching myself how to draw; this came about purely by accident when I found Zentangle, which has the added benefit of being a meditative practice. My life is full of colour now – I literally have coloured pencils, pens, markers, sketchbooks and paper all over my place – when I never imagined there could be room for anything creative with this illness and constant pain.
Many of my relationships also changed and some became stronger because of my illness. At this point last year I felt alone and very isolated. The feeling of isolation shifted a bit when I started this blog and made connections with people living in situations similar to mine. From their stories, I learned how chronic pain and chronic illness could take a heavy toll on your relationships with friends and family and on your relationship with yourself. Articles and blog posts I read spoke of incredible loss and loneliness because people are afraid to share the truth about their circumstances or they had people turn their backs on them when they did share the truth. I had those fears about sharing and I did lose relationships with people who didn’t want to deal with what I’m living with, and I even had some family walk away from me. However, the people who encourage me to be honest about how I feel (physically and emotionally) and want me to ask them for help are incredible. People, who a few years ago I might have considered casual friends, are now some of my closest friends. Friends I’ve known for decades are now even closer and do whatever they can to support me and keep my spirits up when pain overwhelms me. The love from these friends and the family that stand by me makes me feel less afraid about being open and less isolated, even though I spend most of my days alone.
Chronic pain and illness continued to change my life in 2015. However, as I look back, most of the positive changes wouldn’t have happened without them. I never make New Year’s resolutions and I’m not going to change that now, but I am going to hope that my bank of positive experiences continues to grow.