“You are NOT Superwoman! Even though you are a super woman!” This quote is from an email that my dear friend wrote in response during a recent email exchange between the two of us. We were trying to set a date and a time to get together. We rarely see each other and she is important to me as we met at the Chronic Pain Rehab Program. As I was listing all of the current projects and responsibilities that I have going on, it didn’t occur to me that once again, I may be a tad too busy.
Chronic pain and illness affects each one of us differently. Some of us work, some of us don’t. Some of us are raising small children, some of us are in our “golden years”. Some of us exercise at the gym on machines and lift weights, some of us enjoy pool therapy instead. No matter how we are living out our daily lives, my guess is that I am not alone in this aspect: I sometimes overcompensate for my chronic pain by adding even more to my schedule.
The first year after my chronic pain diagnosis, I really took a step back and slowed down. Like, “quit my full time job and went to pool therapy and yoga every day” kind of slow. This was a good learning experience for me because it brought light to my struggle with a negative core belief about myself. It also brought light to the fact that I was getting my self worth from how successful I was at managing working 50+ hours per week at two jobs, raising a kid, and cramming every other activity I could into my daily routine. Chronic pain brought my life, and the speed at which I lived it, to a screeching halt.
As the years have gone on, I have adapted, and regained a certain level of functioning. I have increased the amount of activities and projects that I take on. Sometimes on a rare occasion, my brain forgets that I have limitations, and I can agree to a commitment before really thinking it through. In the email to my friend, I was explaining that I am working one part time job, which is also an internship for something I’m going to school for. I’m also working at another part time job in my primary profession, and besides that, I’m studying currently to take a certification exam for another “add on” to my credentials. I also explained that I’m involved with 3 different support groups every week, and trying to still navigate all of the food prep required for my ketogenic diet that I am on. I also am trying to manage this site, create new ways of connecting with people, and grow the outreach. There’s more, but my goal isn’t to convince you that I truly am Superhuman.
So why do I overcompensate and add all of these things to my schedule? Part of it is that I have really long periods of great coping skills and management of my health issues. I consider myself thriving despite the pain, so sometimes I think that I can handle more. But, there are other times, having chronic pain (and other health problems) touches a core negative belief about myself. It’s the belief that “I am not good enough”. This belief about myself was there prior to all of my health diagnoses, and those diagnoses (and the limitations) have just exacerbated that belief about myself. I think “If I work 2 or 3 part times jobs, that will compensate for the fact that I am unable to work in a full time position.” Or maybe that when I explain all of the things that I have going on, people will not automatically assume that I am “lazy” or view me through the lens of the stigma of chronic pain and illness.
The belief that my chronic pain and health issues makes me less of a person IS A LIE! The belief that I am not good enough IS A LIE. The truth is that I try my best. The truth is that after some time and practice, I am able to navigate through many of the complications and limitations that chronic pain and illness throws my way. I need to continue to challenge this lie (belief) about myself! I AM GOOD ENOUGH! Having chronic pain doesn’t change that. Only being able to work a maximum of 30 hours a week (and that is pushing it) is okay. Being limited to jobs in my profession that allow a great amount of flexibility, is actually a blessing! Having to warn friends and family up front that I may need to bail on my commitments and plans with them, well, that is good communication. I have learned to run a commitment opportunity by a trusted friend or mentor, before agreeing. I try my best to pace myself, and count my spoons carefully so that I can follow through on commitments and plans that I already have. Sometimes, even with my best efforts, “life” happens and I need to cancel. But, if I continue in the behavior of overcompensating, I am doing myself and everyone I have contact with, a disservice. I am not being true to myself, and the truth is that I AM A SUPER-WOMAN! I’m just not Superwoman.