Years ago I began to get a nagging pain in my leg. At times it would randomly feel better but rarely if ever was the pain completely gone. Even when the sharp pain wasn’t around, the ache was present, like a shadow or a warning that the pain was still there, waiting to strike when I least expected it.
The pain wasn’t remarkable, I’m sure many people have felt similar if not worse pain, but it did at times, keep me from walking far. What was remarkable was the way I chose to deal with it.
I guess, you could say, I didn’t.
Month after month went by with this chronic pain, ebbing and flowing, but it was always present and consistently impacting the choices I made in my life. It went on so long that I eventually accepted it as just a part of me.
I rationalized it by telling myself that it didn’t always affect my life in big ways. Sometimes I would just choose a car ride instead of a longer walk, or I would find a chair instead of standing at an event.
But gradually I began to anticipate the pain and I would choose not to do things just in case there would be pain.
Did you hear that?
I was saying no to things I wanted to do, in case I would have pain!
The stories I told myself about this pain were at the extreme opposite ends of a continuum. Either there was probably nothing wrong and no one could do anything about it anyway, or it was an extremely scary, terrifying and rare disease that would change my life. I was content to hold both of these opposing beliefs in my mind, teetering between extreme worries on any given day.
What I wasn’t fully aware of was that these stories were giving me something. They were allowing me to stay frozen in place. If either of these opposite beliefs were true, then what was the use in asking for help? As long as I stayed in a place of uncertainty I couldn’t be expected to change, right?
I’m telling you this story about my leg pain with the hope that if you can relate, it may help me make a larger point about our mental health.
Do you have an emotional pain that you have decided to live with?
I wonder if you are telling yourself a story about your pain so that you don’t have to take any action? What are the reasons you give yourself for allowing it to alter your daily life in small and/or big ways?
In my work as a therapist over the years I have had many conversations with people about the daily decisions we make that keep us stuck in the same emotional place, week after week, month after month, and even year after year.
We may tell ourselves:
- I can’t change
- Nothing works
- I’m not the type of person that can do that
- If only they would change
- I’m not good enough
- I don’t deserve anything better
The good news is that once we become aware of the way we cling to unhelpful stories, we can change! Shining the light of awareness on anything is the beginning of change.
If you have thought of an emotional pain you feel stuck with while reading this, then it is already different. You have already begun to change.
In therapy we talk about this pain, we try to understand it and then we work to change it.
It isn’t easy, I suppose, understanding and challenging unhelpful beliefs.
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