I’ve battled invisible illnesses for over half my life now. I suffered a major flare in 2004 that I never completely recovered from, and my illnesses have domineered much of my life since. That was the year I underwent Nissen fundoplication, a laparoscopic procedure to treat my severe gastric reflux disease. The surgery itself was successful, but I suffered nerve damage in my sternum due to an instrument being pressed too hard against a nerve for an extended period of time. It pinched the nerve for over an hour during surgery, causing me excruciating pain that didn’t resolve for almost a year and led to a hallucination-inducing addiction to morphine pills.
In fact, the general surgeon was forced to call in a thoracic surgeon at one point to crack open my sternum to fix the problem – a drastic solution indeed. I’m grateful the thoracic surgeon didn’t have to crack my sternum and instead had the sense to recommend gabapentin, a medication that can be prescribed for nerve damage and that effectively alleviated what I was facing.
I spent almost a year in a hunched over position in an attempt to contain my pain. It took multiple physical therapy visits and massage treatments to loosen up my muscles in a way that allowed me to stand up straight again. I’m grateful for the therapists who helped me.
I’m grateful there are medical teams in place when we need emergency surgery, such as when a cyst I knew nothing about on my ovary burst. The pain was immediate and relentless, and the cyst needed to be immediately removed. There was a team in place and available to tackle that just as there was a team to remove my gallbladder and my other ovary when it went rogue as well.
And I’m grateful for my three doctors who have collaborated and worked with me on a comprehensive approach to my multiple health issues over the last five years: Dr. Leong, Dr. Winston and Dr. Burnett, my orthopedic surgeon who performed my hip replacement.
You might be thinking that it’s easy to be grateful to the people who help us, but wondering how I can be grateful for having chronic pain and fibromyalgia and all the other stuff. Well, I’ll tell you.
When you have an invisible illness, you tend to miss out on a lot of life. You may have to give up your job or volunteer activities, your hobbies and your family life. You may end up losing a lot more than you seem to have left. But you are also forced to dig deep to discover what truly invokes your sense of gratitude while facing chronic pain. My list includes:
- Sunrises and sunsets
- Quiet mornings after a good sleep
- A perfect cup of coffee
- A day where the kids get along and no one is fighting
- A day where the cat and the dog don’t barf all over the place
- Feeling energetic enough to accomplish a few things on my to-do list
- Feeling rested
- Feeling less pain than normal
- Being able to go for a coffee date with a girlfriend or two
- Having dinner with my family together instead of needing to lay down
- Date night with my spouse
- Watching a movie together instead of having to go to bed early
- Having a bath or shower
- Having enough food on the table and money in the bank
- A sense of safety and security
- A roof over our heads
- Feeling loved
- Having a close friend I can confide in
- Books to read and art to admire
- Social media like Facebook and Pinterest
- Ice cream or another favorite treat
- Family and friends to share memories with
There is so much we should all be grateful for, but when you live with chronic pain, chronic fatigue and invisible illness, it’s easy to get stuck wallowing in the negative. We often forget to stop and remember to be grateful. This holiday season, I ask that those of you who are battling an invisible illness stop with me to foster your gratitude while facing chronic pain. Take a moment to list a few things that you’re grateful for and make it a habit each day to say thank you. Actualize your attitude of gratitude, and like a bountiful garden, nurture it every day.
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