What Does It Mean To Get Better?


I’ve been thinking a lot about healing and recovery, and what it means to get better.

Last week, I hit my six-month post-op milestone. It came and went only mildly noticed by me and not at all by others. When I look back at how I had imagined myself to feel at this stage in the recovery process, I hadn’t been able to see clearly; it was all a blur of grey. I could barely see beyond the initial hospital stay, let alone the long uphill journey of rehabilitation. When I was able to imagine the recovery, I focused my energy on the end game, the final stretch in the marathon. I imagined myself fully healed and full of energy and vitality.

The truth is, I don’t feel that way, well at least not yet.

The recovery process is a lot like a mini rollercoaster.

There are ups, downs, turns, and twists. They can come out of nowhere. One day you are feeling stronger, seeing progress, and the next you are aching, cramping, and feeling like you just overdid it.

I used to worry about what would happen if I kept telling people that I felt better. If I told them “I feel better” does that mean that in--in their eyes--I’m forever healed and without pain? On days when I felt worse would they understand? Would they be surprised? Would that mean that everything that I’d gone through was forgotten and didn’t matter anymore? This kind of thinking can distract from the moments when you are really making progress; when you are reaching beyond the pain and learning to live more mindfully.

I encourage you to celebrate the highs and to allow space for the lows.

Rest when your body needs it. Do what feels good for you. By doing this, you will find the space to live in spite of the pain and to learn from it.

The late educator, author, and musician Bruce Kramer spoke so beautifully about his journey with his experience as a man living with the degenerative disease ALS. In an interview with Krista Tippett on the On Being podcast, he addressed the idea of healing, being cured, and recovery, and what we each can learn from our own pain.

It would be with me for as long as I lived, as long as this body continued to live. It became almost an acknowledgement that in the room, in this room right now, as we are sitting here, each one of us holds almost a personage, sitting next to us, abiding in the gut, living in our breath. And that personage defines who we are in so many ways. And what I kept hearing was that you can't run away from this. If you embrace it, it will teach you. It will open you. And dis ease became my name for that, for that phenomenon.

His words just pull at my heart. I totally get what he is saying. Pain changes as we move through our lives, and in some cases it can go away entirely. That’s the goal, right? To live without the pain? But, it’s not always the case, is it? So, doesn’t that mean that the goal is to live in spite of the pain? To, as I often say, thrive instead of just survive?

I think it is. We carry the pain with us, but it doesn’t mean that it has to define us. We can ease the grip that chronic pain has on your mind, soul, and heart. The pain that knocks the wind of out your sails and tells you: No, you can’t do that because you have to pay attention to ME! There’s so much energy in pain. It’s so powerful.

What if we shift the story and start to look at the pain as a means to propel us forward?

No matter what, pain has a sentence, a page, paragraph, and in many cases it has even a few chapters in our story of life. That’s not something we can change, but we can change how it makes us move. Do we allow it to move us backward? Keep us in neutral? Or do we kick it in the gut and do a cartwheel?

Getting better doesn’t mean that we lose the story, the scars, and the wisdom that chronic pain brings into our lives. If anything, it makes us into a stronger, bolder, more badass version of ourselves.

So let’s embrace the journey and learn from it what we can. Let’s rewrite the story and make a point to remember that we are not the pain. It’s a part of us, but we are not it. Do what you can to feel better, to feel more peaceful in your body. That’s what it’s really all about, isn’t it?




Listen to or read the transcript this conversation between Bruce Kramer and Krista Tippett at On Being. Bruce Kramer passed away earlier this year. He wrote about his journey with ALS on his blog The Dis Ease Diary. He also published a book, We Know How This Ends: Living While Dying. 



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