Look at How Far You’ve Come, Not How Far You Have to Go

What if i’ve made a terrible mistake?

I’ve been asking myself that a lot lately.

September is just around the corner. And when September comes, I wake up to a new day to day life as a student.

I suppose it’s fairly common to spend some time considering your choices and their consequences whenever a new life chapter begins. It’s a chance to reflect on where you’ve been, where you’re going and where you want to go (ideally, the last two should line up).

And so I keep wondering: What if I’ve made a terrible mistake?

What if the gap between what my head wants to do and what my body is capable of doing is too big?

I decided to take a leap, but at the last second, I’m having second thoughts.

I finished my bachelor’s degree almost a year ago.

Most people return to study for a master’s degree after a month or two of summer, but I ended up taking a year off. Usually, when people decide to take a break from studying it’s to get some work experience before they continue. However, that’s not what happened in my case.

In my case, the explanation is not quite as fun. I had to take a break because I had reached my breaking point. I have chronic neck pain, and it had complete control of my life at that point. Every days was a struggle, and I could just as well have flunked out of uni.

So I needed a break. And I needed help. My history of fighting for help and a diagnosis is long, uninspiring and kinda upsetting (and even worse, not unusual). So let’s skip to January 2019, when I was finally referred to a pain clinic – a section of the hospital where they specialise in treating people with chronic pain.

Treatment there has been partly life-saving, partly ineffective.

Comparison really is the thief of joy – even when you’re only comparing with yourself

Let me clarify: I’m still in pain all the time. The pain intensity is fairly unchanged. But in so many other ways, it was exactly what I needed. Through the education the clinic offers, I’ve learned a new perspective, a new way to relate to and be with the pain.

While I’m still in pain, the benefits include:

  • I sleep better
  • I’m able to concentrate for longer – I can read books again
  • My memory is not as unreliable as it used to be
  • I’ve stopped pretending to be well when I’m really not
  • I’m setting boundaries
  • I don’t avoid people anymore because I’m scared of their questions and what they think of me
  • I’m more aware of what’s deeply important and valuable to me
  • I have less anxious thoughts about the future

Speaking of the future (which very soon will be present tense)…

When I got the acceptance letter from the university, I was filled with joy. Obviously – it was still what I wanted, and I’m still passionate about the subject matter.

But in the time after, I noticed a new thought had sneaked in. It kept saying:

If you can’t even do that without causing the pain to flare up, how do you expect to ever survive at university?

Where I used to compare my progress to the dark place that was my worst, I had started comparing myself to a morphed version of my old, pre-pain self and the ideal student (I do have a tendency to romanticize my life pre-chronic-pain, because so much of my current suffering is caused by the pain. But rationally, I know I had my ups and downs back then too. Memory is a funny, twisted thing).

Instead of looking at how far I had come, I started looking at how far I had to go.

…and I completely lost my patience and compassion for myself.

I have to make lots of little decisions every day between taking care of my body or to temporarily distracting myself, ignoring it’s signals. The pain clinic taught me how to do the former, but now I found myself, with increasing frequency, doing the latter.

Comparison really is the thief of joy – even when you’re only comparing with yourself.

I do have a tendency to romanticize my life pre-chronic-pain, because so much of my current suffering is caused by the pain. But rationally, I know I had my ups and downs back then too. Memory is a funny, twisted thing.

I’m going to be in pain no matter what I do.

Yes, but you’re not going to be unhappy no matter what you do, Anne. Joy is not the opposite of pain. They can co-exist. But if you don’t take care of yourself and prioritize what you know is good for you long term, you will not have the energy to do what makes you happy. If you keep drowning out your feelings with meaningless distractions, you’re not just pushing away the negative feelings – you’re keeping out the positive ones too.

One definition of accept is: Seeings things for what they are, rather than how you think they should be.

In that sense, I can see I had only temporarily accepted my situation. I had accepted that I had to take a detour from my future plans for a couple of months, not that they’re changed forever. I haven’t fully figured out how to live with my new circumstances.

But now that I see what I’ve been doing, I’m ready to change course. Forever is too large a chunk to accept, but we never know what they future will bring anyway – good and bad, I’ll deal with it as it comes.

For now, I’ll deal with the now. I won’t let the distance between where I am and where utopia-Anne is keep me from living my best life now.

It looks different from yours, but that’s okay.

We’re different, and have different pains to deal with – physically, mentally and emotionally. Don’t let comparison – with others, including other versions of you – steal your joy.

Gif that says lots of love, Anne xx

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