Chronic Pain and Losing Control

I decided to take charge of my health. In early 2011, my 35th birthday quickly approached. I don’t know what came over me, but I couldn’t be satisfied with the fact that I recently enrolled in martial arts classes. I’ve always been an all-or-nothing kind of guy, so I decided to start training for a 10K too! While this might not seem overly ambitious to some of you, I existed at near-zero physical activity for many years and moved to strenuous workouts multiple times a week nearly overnight.

I considered myself healthy, so getting healthier to me just meant getting fit. Chronic pain and illness were the furthest things from my mind. Combined with diet, my new routine began leading to rapid results. I lost a lot of weight and felt better than I had in years.

When I first injured my hips, first my left and then my right, I assumed it was due to pushing too hard and a lack of flexibility. I still did my belt tests in Taekwondo. I ran my 10K. I assumed some rest after the 10K in June would heal my hips. I took two months off that Summer. When I resumed physical activity in early August of 2011, I knew there was something unusually wrong. The pain had not subsided one bit. Soon I was forced to give up running and martial arts. All of the control I thought I had over my physical destiny was fleeting away.

Same event as the 10K five years later (2016). My boys and I walked a 5k in this one.

I won’t give the whole story. You can read that elsewhere if you are interested. Even then, I thought if I could just figure out what was wrong, I could fix it with surgery. We tried that, but I didn’t get better. Ultimately, it illuminated the underlying cause. My hip problems did not stem from a lack of flexibility but a complex mixture of at least two autoimmune diseases.

Many of my readers and participants in Broken and Mended have similar stories. I often hear healthy people talk flippantly about what they are going to do or accomplish with their bodies. My oldest son (18) works out constantly with a body builder’s motivation. I don’t chasten him for it. I am proud of him! I wish I had been that driven at his age! However, I know how quickly our illusions of control can come crashing down. It is especially humbling when it is your own body that goes to war against your health.

When we lose that slippery grasp on control, we are probably going to feel sorry for ourselves for a while. I certainly did. Sometimes I still do, but I have also learned the value of physical humility. I am wiser than my 35-year-old self. Wisdom became necessary just to survive a more difficult life. I am also more compassionate to fellow sufferers. And I don’t take for granted what I CAN do now.

In a convicting and sobering admonition James, the brother of Jesus, warns us not to talk arrogantly about what we will do and where we will do it. “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’  As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil” (Jas. 4:15-16).

I did not choose the journey I am on, but I am thankful for the hard lessons that came through it. None of us controls even the next moment of our lives. Chronic pain is an expert teacher on that subject.

About David Heflin

I blog about topics related to the Christian faith and the struggle of chronic pain. I have ankylosing spondylitis and have dealt with chronic pain since 2011. I hope to provide support and community for those going along that same journey with me.
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