Always rethinking goals

March 27, 2015

I had a plan. Then I got sick.

But then, you know what they say about the best laid plans.

This morning I was talking with a friend. Sometimes I do some budget consulting. I don’t have the energy to do much of 3-27-2015 4-01-42 PMit, but I love it, and do it when I can. I always begin with discussing the person’s/couple’s goals. These goals can be anything: buying a house, buying a smart phone, getting a dog, having children, traveling the world, starting a business, retiring young…. there are endless possibilities.

Today I happened to be working with a friend, so it was more casual than when I get paid by strangers to consult for them. After we’d gone through her goals, her spending, her debt, her income, and her savings, we talked some more about goals. And she asked me about mine.

Most people assume my goal is to get healthy, but it’s actually not. I know I’ll never be completely healthy, and I also know I want more than that.

We all had plans that were different when we were healthier. Some got derailed because of health, some got derailed for other reasons, and some were achieved. After my friend left, I thought again about my goals. I think the most unusual thing about them is how often I think about them and change them. Most people, I would guess, hardly ever step back to look at the bigger picture. They assume they’ll do the things society tells them to do, like get a job, get married, buy a house, and have children, probably in that order. But they don’t think beyond that. I know I didn’t. In fact, that’s about what my life plan looked like.

Just before I got sick, I started thinking about leaving my 9-5 job and starting my own business. I didn’t know what that would be. I thought I might try to earn a living off of blogging (spoiler alert: this blog is 4 years old and earns nothing, so that won’t be how I earn my fortune.) I considered some other options. I dated and looked for Mr. or Ms. Right. And mostly I put one foot in front of the other.

Since I’ve been out of work, I am constantly thinking about the present and the future, about what I want and how to achieve it. I change it constantly, as my health and moods change. I’ve come up with several potential ways to work for myself from home part time. I know that I want a dog. I want to improve my health as much as possible while not being obsessed with it. I want a dog. I would love to find a life partner, but I’m also currently content with being single. I want to live someplace quiet and peaceful, preferably near the water. I want to exercise regularly, including physical therapy. I want to be financially stable. I want to spend less time home alone and more time with people I love. And did I mention that I want a dog?

Most people don’t think about their goals often, if at all. Having a chronic illness doesn’t necessarily change that. For some people, it might make them think about their goals less. I happen to go the opposite way. I need something to reach for. I need a happy place to aim for. It gives me a reason to try. Let’s face it, living with chronic illness is work! Reaching for my goals gives me a bit of incentive not to give up on that work.

What about you? Do you spend a lot of time thinking about your goals? Do you avoid them? Do you change your goals over time? What’s one thing on your list?


On not noticing the pain

March 2, 2015

The point of pain is to make you aware that something is wrong with your body. At least, that’s supposed to be how it works. Unfortunately, for some of us that system is malfunctioning.

In theory, you feel pain, you pay attention to it, you try to fix the source of it. But when your pain is constant, that’s not how it works.

My pain started more than 22 years ago. I’d have it for days, weeks, or months at a time. It would randomly go away, only to return at some unexpected time. Then about 19 years ago, it changed: it got worse and it became a 24/7 presence in my life.

Most people would expect me to have been thinking about my pain every day then and now. And in a way I did and do, but not in a focused or conscious way.

After all these years, I know what movements and actions will trigger pain and I avoid those. If I absolutely had to pick up something heavy or move in certain ways, I literally wouldn’t know how to do those things now. It’s been so many years, that I don’t remember how. Like riding a bike. I stopped riding a bike due to the pain and I’m pretty sure that if I tried now, despite the well-known saying, I’d fall over (at least in part because my center of gravity has shifted quite a bit since I was 16.) So I suppose that in avoiding those triggering actions the pain is on my mind, but only in the background.

These days, I only pay attention to the pain in two situations:

  1. When it spikes. I can’t ignore those sudden increases.
  2. When it’s consistently severe. I can ignore pain up to a 6 on my pain scale (with a range of 1-10) fairly well, and a 7 if I need to, but above that I can’t ignore it. When it hits 8.5 I start considering taking pain meds, even though they have side effects that I hate.

So what about the rest of the time? Well, I notice it sometimes, but it doesn’t take up a lot of room in my brain. Other times I forget that I’m even in pain. When the doctor asks if I’m in pain, I sometimes have to stop and take inventory of my body. Because otherwise I’m not sure. Other times I’m in a lot of pain and it’s obvious even to me.

I’m not saying it’s easy to ignore pain or even that it’s natural. For me, it was a matter of self-preservation. When I was 17 I reached a point of exhaustion and I just had to learn to sleep through the pain. There was no other way to function. So first I began to sleep through the pain, then I pushed it farther and farther back in my mind as it became my new normal. And there were other things on my mind. I was applying to colleges, going out with friends, dating for the first time, fighting with my sister, thinking my parents were unfair (hey, give me a break, I was a teenager!) and spending many hours on homework. I had, you know, a life.

In other words, there was more to my life than just the pain.

Even now, when my life is more taken up by my health problems than it was in those early days and I can’t work at a job, I have non-health things going on, too. I date a bit, I spend time with friends, I volunteer. And, yes, I take care of my health constantly. In an odd way, that’s also a distraction from the pain.

So now, like then, sometimes I’m too busy to think about the pain. Sure, a 5 on the pain scale would upset most people. And I admit, if I suddenly feel a 5 in a new place, I can’t ignore it. But if I feel a 5 in an area where I’ve had daily pain for years then sure, it might not get my full attention. A part of my brain picks up on the pain signals, decides it’s not worth addressing, and relegates it to the back row of my attention theater.

A little while ago, in the middle of typing an earlier paragraph, the pain got bad enough that I could no longer sit up in a chair. I noticed the pain. I had been ignoring it for most of the last week and my body finally gave me some clues that if I kept ignoring it, I’d be paying a steep price later. And that’s why I’m now typing to you from my couch. But while I was busy continuing this post, I forgot about the pain completely. I wasn’t aware that I was even in any pain at all. Now that I think about it, yes, it’s still there. It’s significantly better than it was when I was in the chair. No doubt that it’s better. But it’s there. And if I wasn’t so used to it I’d probably be worried that something was wrong with my body.

But I know better than that. And that’s why I’ll keep going about my day, doing as much as I can so I can cross things off my “to do” list for the day, and only noticing the pain if it gets worse again. Until then, it won’t even cross my mind.

And if it does, I’ll shove it away.


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