Last week I climbed a mountain.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure most avid climbers would have laughed at such a simple hike. The trail was three miles up to a beautiful waterfall and three miles back down.
As a person with chronic pain, however, this mountain seemed incredibly daunting. Attempting the hike seemed absurd by almost every standard. I can’t physically walk without being in pain. Regardless of how much endurance training I do, my pain levels always force me to stop short of what I know my body could accomplish otherwise. Add the fact that my lungs weren’t accustomed to the thin mountain air, and I truly thought the hike was doomed before I had even put on my shoes.
An intense headache hit me about 2.5 miles into the hike that laid me out flat on the side of the mountain. My legs and my back ached through the entirety of the hike. I cried. I threw up. I almost passed out. But I did it.
I made it. I completed the hike.
I won and chronic pain lost.
After I finished the hike and looked in the mirror at my ghost-like, exhausted face, I thought long and hard about whether or not it was worth it.
Was it worth the pain? Did I even have anything to show for it? Should I have listened to my body’s signals and quit?
I’m a huge advocate for recognizing and acknowledging physical signals that your body needs rest. Physically and logically, that’s the best way to take care of your body. As a modern culture, we should be better at recognizing those signs. I have personally grown so much in allowing myself to listen to my body’s needs while I have struggled with chronic illness.
However, my body is literally broken. My nervous system sends me pain signals that should never exist and have no physical purpose. It’s painful and exhausting. I’ve lost so many battles because of it, which would take a toll on anyone’s mental health.
The day I climbed the mountain, I chose to listen to my mental health needs instead of my physical health needs, because life is about balance.
I needed a victory.
I needed tangible evidence of progress in my life. I wanted to win.
Literally seeing how far I had come, pushing my body and getting to the end of the trail was incredibly empowering and healing for me.
Yes, chronic pain has taken so much from me.
I’ve lost so much.
But climbing a mountain reminded me I am still strong. I am still fighting. I am still growing. I am still alive.
And when you’re as stubborn as me, sometimes you have to climb a mountain in order to learn the truths that are hard to remember.
I don’t know what your mountain is. Sometimes, my daunting mountain is something like cooking dinner or brushing my teeth. There’s no shame in that. And there’s no shame in listening to my body.
But there is also healing in allowing myself the freedom to push through the pain and accomplish something great.
I’m still learning how to balance listening to both my emotional and physical health needs. They so often conflict for those with chronic pain.
But it is possible to do both. Don’t forget it is possible to thrive despite pain, OK?
Follow this story on Fighting for Joy One Day at a Time