I've always been a worrier. This stems from a lot of places, namely that I spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking and rethinking and overthinking just about everything. I play out possible scenarios in my head with the veracity of an air traffic controller monitoring thousands of crisscrossing flights, tiny airplanes on a screen.
I also have a tendency to spiral. This is dangerous in of itself, because spirals grow wider and wider until they are so large, you can't see the edges anymore. This is how I think of my thought process. A small, controlled action that curves into oblivion if I let it.
Now, sometimes I can stop myself. I can take a deep breath and say "enough is enough." Like when I start to think about all the things that could go wrong when I'm making a left hand turn or I put too much oil in the brownies I'm baking. I can just stop, turn on my blinker or adjust the rest of the ingredients, and get on with my day.
But this isn't always the case. Sometimes it's hard not to let the spiral overwhelm me. When I think about my chronic headaches, for example. I think about the fact that I haven't been without pain behind my left eye for a single second in almost two years. I think about the amount of time I spend napping each week, even each day. How much life have I missed just sleeping?
This leads to other thoughts, other worries. I worry about my writing. I worry about how I haven't totally felt like myself in a long time. I worry about all the time I've wasted, how my life feels on hold indefinitely. I worry about the isolation this has caused me, about ending up alone. I worry about what will happen when the doctors finally run out of options and tell me this is as good as it gets. I worry that this will be the rest of my life. This is not the life I envisioned for myself.
You can see where these spirals might get out of control. It's difficult for me to live the daily challenges of my chronic pain experience and not let my thoughts wander to the what ifs, everything I think I've missed out on so far. But this kind of spiraling is not healthy. It's downright debilitating at times, on a particularly bad day when I can barely turn my neck, let alone solve a major life crisis.
My focus should be on wellness, on getting better and continuing to learn how to cope with my situation, how to find joy and gratitude in my life, in the people who surround me. I should be focused on this. There are some things I just can't worry about anymore.
My Love Life
Perhaps it seems a little silly to have this on the list. After all, I have a lot going on right now. Deciding whether or not to swipe right or left should perhaps be the last thing on my mind. But, my headache experience has been incredibly isolating at times, and this loneliness does get to me. I crave connection and contact in the midst of all of this.
Beyond that, I don't feel particularly good about myself, my health and appearance. My lack of energy and forced inactivity has taken it's toll on my confidence and I worry about what this means for my ability to eventually find someone. My life is a lot for anyone to commit to take on right now. Maybe it's too much even to ask someone to consider.
I worry that I am going to lose out on my chance to be in love in that singular, most intimate way. As I watch my friends get married and have babies, I worry that this is just not something in the cards for me. And, I want it. I want it all. I want to love and share my life with someone.
But I also need to get well and be comfortable with my situation, who I am and what I am going through. I need this for me and I need this to be a partner to someone else. So, instead of worrying about a future of cats and spinsterhood, I will focus on being my best self and loving who and what I already have to the best of my ability. And, I will trust that the rest of it will come.
Keeping Up With My Peers
It's difficult not to feel a little insecure about my life right now. I am not financially stable. I do not have the independence I long for, that so many people my age are finally enjoying now that the economy has begun to shift and jobs are becoming available. While I am thankful for Medicaid, the system can be difficult to navigate and a little humiliating at times. It's hard not to look at others' success and worry about my own missteps.
But I cannot measure my own success against that of my peers. I have to honor the setbacks. My health has undoubtedly taken a toll on what I thought I would have accomplished by now. But it's more than that. I have shifted the focus of my life, my career, numerous times, and am only just settling into what I really want to do.
I can't worry about how all of this stacks up against everyone else. I have to measure my triumphs in a way that does not minimize them, but instead celebrates what I have been able to do. Just me. Life is not a competition and I am not running a race. I need to focus on being who I want to be and not let the rest of it matter so very much.
What Other People Think of My Situation
I wish it didn't matter how other people view me and my situation, but it does. I want people to understand and respect what I am going through. There are a few reasons for this. First, I worry that people don't believe me, or at least don't really appreciate how difficult things are for me on a daily basis.
I worry that people think I am a life failure, that I've just gotten lazy or I don't try hard enough to overcome the obstacles my chronic pain sets forth. I guess I just worry that people are disappointed in me. Sometimes, I worry it's the people I love the most who might feel this way. This fear can be incapacitating.
On the other hand, I want people to understand what I am going through because I crave the validation. I want people to pat me on the back and say "you are strong" or "you are brave" because sometimes I don't feel like either of those things and it's nice to hear someone say it. Sometimes I worry if they don't say it, they don't believe it, and it's not true.
But I can't worry about any of that. It's not anybody else's responsibility to validate my situation. I know what I experience, I live it every day, and as much as I want others to understand it, they aren't me. I also can't forget that it's a lot to ask, for people to live in my struggle with me. As much as it takes out of me, it takes out of them too. I can't worry that people don't know exactly what I'm going through, when they show me every day that they love me and support me. That is enough.
The Life I Thought I Would Have
I just turned 27. I thought I would have a book published, or at least be a bit farther along in the publishing process by now. I thought I'd have gotten a substantial start on my next big project. I thought my career would be well under way.
And, in some ways, it is. I have an agent, I am settling into new projects, both fiction and non-fiction, and I am working to build my own business and portfolio, put my sills to use and get paid for it. But none of this is happening at the pace I want. And, I worry that it's not enough, that I haven't gotten far enough, that the goals I have set myself are out of reach.
This is unfair. I am working hard, and I have accomplished things. Yes, sometimes I have to take naps, and sometimes I go for days at a time where I can't work, where I can't even look at a computer screen, but that doesn't mean that I have given up. I push forward every day. I find ways to make it all work. I have to stop worrying about where I thought I'd be, and see the progress in where I've gotten.
It's impossible not to worry about the future. You don't have to have a chronic illness to know this is the case. And, there is some value in thinking about where you'd like to be in a few years. It's how we set goals, challenge ourselves, make changes for the better. The danger comes in obsessing about a future where you just can't imagine liking what you see.
That's my problem. My search for answers, a cause and treatment for my headaches, has placed great emphasis on what things will look like after I get better. Like this is just a phase and I will somehow outgrow it. And, while I think this optimism is important to the healing process, chronic pain doesn't always work that way. There might not be a cure, a fix-all. It might be a constant, continuous journey.
And I can't worry about what that means. I can't worry about the fact that my headache might not ever go away completely. I can't worry about what that means for the rest of my life. I have to focus on the here and now, what I'm doing today, and every day, to not just get by but to fill my life with joy and gratitude. And more than anything, I have to let that be enough for me.