In Absentia

Do you ever notice something, only when it’s gone? That happened for me, in the presence (or absence, really) of chronic pain.

When I was only six years old, my knees hurt really badly. I wasn’t allowed to participate in the annual Terry Fox Run because of it. In that moment, so, so badly wanting to be “part of” something, I was taught that I was too sick. Yet, there was no explanation. Just, my joints were causing me pain, as if I had arthritis. But what child that age could possibly get arthritis? So I guess it was written off as growing pains, even though those felt completely different and were an impossibly achy pain in the long bones of my legs. Those pains would wake me up in the middle of the night. These joint pains, the ones that prohibited me from participating in community activities, these were the ones that labelled me as SICK.

And so it began. A lifetime of identifying as sick. Explaining things away as sick. Why can’t you do this? I’m sick. Why can’t you eat this? Oh, I’m sick. And on, and on, and on. It became my go-to, even for times when I was well and just didn’t feel like doing something. “Oh, not feeling well today, sorry.” I mean, no wonder I stayed sick for so long, when it was something I was constantly reaffirming. Imagine saying the same thing about yourself time and time again for so long. It’s bound to happen eventually, if you truly believe in it. Affirmations rewire our brain that way!

Our German Shepherd developed joint pain, when I was in my late teens, or close to twenty. These dogs are prone to joint pain, especially hip dysplasia, due to their size and breeding. My mom, by this time, learned that a supplement called glucosamine was helpful for repairing connective tissue, and fed it to our dog, with great results. When it worked for our large dog, she tried it, and then suggested I try it too.

Now, at that time of my life, I was popping pills like crazy. You handed me something, I would take it. I didn’t care much for… anything, really. So I didn’t give a second thought to taking some supplements that my mom and dog were taking!

Then one day, as I raised my foot to take the first step up the long flight of stairs that led out of our basement apartment in Victoria, something odd happened. I winced. Or rather… I noticed that I winced. I braced myself for pain, and the pain wasn’t there.

The pain wasn’t there.

And only in its absence, is when I noticed it. Like frogs that won’t hop out of a pot of gradually heated water, I had also gradually accepted the pain I was in. It became a normal part of my life. Wincing, bracing myself for pain, and numbing myself in any way I could, had all become normal parts of my life, at least since that time I was not allowed in the Terry Fox Run.

Do you get it? I was so used to the pain, that the first time I noticed it was in its absence.

This would be an ongoing theme for some time: for example, the absence of stomach pain when I went gluten-free. After my grandma was diagnosed with Celiac disease, I stopped eating gluten, and my symptoms eased (including the mysterious joint pain).

My entire life, I was so used to discomfort, that I felt startled by its absence, and didn’t know what to do with the freedom I had without its presence. I believe that I replaced it emotionally, which is a whole other story. Our physical and emotional bodies are intrinsically linked. I needed to learn a lesson or two about self-worth and believing in myself before I allowed myself to have that freedom from pain and discomfort.

What about you? Is there anything you didn’t really notice until it was gone? The rain, or bright sunlight, perhaps? Let me know!

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