Perpetual Loss

As I wrote about my disappointing Mt Evans Ascent the other day, I grappled with the grief I still sometimes feel surrounding my chronic pain. I realized that one of the most difficult aspects of a chronic medical condition is its on-going nature. Duh, right?

The problem is that the losses accumulate. When I was 21, my chronic pain meant that I was discharged from the military and could no longer be a pilot. Then it took me five extra years to finish my undergrad. The pain has affected my relationships, too, including my 8-year marriage. I ended my last full-time job in part because I could no longer cope with both its demands and my pain.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

So when I experience another loss, albeit trivial – this time the disappointing finish of a race up Mt. Evans – it can re-ignite that heap of accumulating grief.

 I project the loss forward too. I worry about my August race up Pikes Peak. And then my September ultra in Montana. I worry about my professional goals and whether I will be able to meet them. I worry that the next time I have a brunch date with a friend my pain will keep me from connecting with her. I worry, and I worry, and I worry.

All that anxiety can’t be good for my headache, can it?

I suppose the only thing I can do – the only thing that any of us with a chronic medical condition can do –  is, as they say, focus on the moment. Right now, I’m disappointed I couldn’t run up Mt. Evans in my goal time, in the time I know I’m capable. The trick is allowing myself to feel that loss without inviting the past, more-consequential grief to once again overtake me, and without catastrophizing my future goals either.

I’ll let you know when I master this type of mindfulness.

6 thoughts on “Perpetual Loss

  1. Hi Tom, I’m so thankful you took the time to leave this reply. There is lots here. I want to say that I’m sorry for your daughter’s condition. Chronic pain is chronic pain no matter the type. It is a tough road, but it sounds like she is doing a great job learning to live with it and still get out in the world on the days when she can. It isn’t easy. And I love your story about Ride the Rockies! You are a bad ass. And I love stories with that type of comraderie. Lastly, you are perfectly right when you say, “the thrill of accomplishment is magnified by adversity.” Indeed! That is the point that I need to hold on to. Much love, my friend.

  2. Hi Lynn,

    I wish I could offer some useful observations or magic comments on your situation, but I cannot. I have never experienced anything even remotely akin to your chronic pain. Aging is sort of a chronic issue, but nothing like what you have/are experiencing. I occasionally find myself in the darkness of depression because I can no longer do things that I used to do and love. (I would so love to run another 10K in 45 minutes or less). I hate it when I find myself living in the past and feeling down because of what was or might have been. Fortunately (for me anyway) it is a temporary condition. I can only say that when I read of your exploits (even your recent Mt. Evans disappointment) I am uplifted by your determination, skill, and the beauty of your fortitude. Bear in mind my friend, you are doing many things that people who have nothing like your condition (including me) have never done, will never do, and have never experienced the pain nor the exhilaration of your achievements.

    My eldest daughter was diagnosed a few years ago with chronic rheumatoid arthritis. She is constantly forced to take all kinds of medications to deal with pain, and the other miserable symptoms of the disease. She was recently told by her doctor that there was no cure for this and that she would have to live with it for the rest of her life; all they can do is treat the symptoms. Needless to say, she was really bummed out by that. She has good days where she is able to do things she likes to do (hiking, hunting with her dogs, and enjoying the Pacific Northwest out-of doors). Other days, she can do little more than lie around feeling miserable. I try to think of useful things to say to her, but of course I can’t. (I’m not sure why I brought that up — I’m sure the travails of other people are of little consolation to you.)

    I was going to suggest that you were expecting too much of yourself, but then realised that one can never expect too much of themselves. When I read of your exploits (even the disappointing ones) I am vicariously thrilled by them. When I think of you struggling your way up Mt. Evans or the walls of the Grand Canyon and having to stop and puke, I can sort of share your feelings (several times while running or climbing I have experienced the need to barf and the throbbing desire to just give up the whole thing). Again, those were only mild suggestions of your challenges.

    Coincidentally, learning to fly has long been one of my dreams. I took flying lessons six or eight years ago and was thrilled with every moment of sliding through the sky with the control column in my hands. Unfortunately, after 10.5 hours of flight instruction, I had to give up on that — it was just too expensive (at that time a lesson with instructor cost about $150/hour (it’s probably over $200 an hour now)). A total of about 40 hours is typical for getting a license — that’s about $6000. I remember thinking that it would be far worse to have a pilot’s license and not be able to afford to fly than not having a license at all. Thus, I remain a non-flying aviation freak.

    Several years ago I did the Ride the Rockies (that’s a fun ride if you are into bicycle pain). One leg of the trip was a 75 mile trip to Steamboat Springs. Nearly the whole damned leg was against a constant and serious headwind; the last fifteen miles or so added a long fairly steep uphill climb to Rabbit Ears Pass. Gawd I was miserable — this was about a year after I had torn my ACL and had surgery to tie it back together, so my knee was really screaming at me. Every time the sag-wagon passed by I thought that packing it in at that point was the only sane thing to do. I toughed it out and finally came gliding into Steamboat Springs. A lady who had shared alternate drafting with me against the damned wind was beside herself with joy — we exchanged long hugs (hugs really do help). The next day was a lay-day, so I could recover a bit – still reprimanding myself for not taking the sag wagon for the last 15 or 20 miles. After a few weeks I began to feel some real pride — I had actually toughed it out. I probably delayed the complete healing of my knee by a few months, but now when I recall the ride, it was worth it. I still consider getting myself back into some kind of acceptable condition and doing the RTR again — who knows, maybe I’ll give it a try next year or the year after.

    For me at least, the thrill of accomplishment is magnified by adversity (at least after I have recovered a bit and am beyond the barfing part). I recall the best race I ever ran (not my personal best time). It was a 10K in Western Washington. A serious 10K lots of hills, hot weather, no shade, and few water stations. I had paced myself perfectly — when I crossed the finish line all I could do was collapse on the grass and barf. It occurred to me that I had given it everything I had — I could not have run (or even walked) another step — I was done. I still look back on that as my best race. (There I go wallowing in reminiscence — but this is a good memory exercise at least).

    I’m not sure why I have been going on and on — it surely hasn’t been much help to you — especially in view of the fact that I cannot even begin to understand what you have been and are going through. I’m very fond of you Lynn, and I am regularly astonished by what you have and are accomplishing. I guess, I can share a bit in your victories (which are constant) and think “wow, that’s my friend Lynn, she is amazing; perhaps some of her greatness will rub off on me”. In any event, I will always be in your camp and cheering you on and being so very proud that I have such an incredible friend.

    Hang in there Lynn and remember that whatever, I will be jumping up and down with your flag in my hand.

    Fond regards, Tom

  3. Chronic illness is a real challenge. We try to live in the moment and mostly succeed, but every once in a while, the reality is overwhelming – this is how it will always be. I love this post and support you in your efforts to disallow previous losses to pile onto current losses.

  4. Ugh. There had to be a reason for the madness. I keep telling myself that. Not sure it helps much though. All I know is that you’ve accomplished more than many people have who have no daily pain and that makes you my hero. I look up to you when I’m feeling sorry for myself and for that I thank you Lynn.

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