When Life Doesn't Turn Out Like We Planned

By Barby Ingle, Columnist

Most of my conscious thoughts start when I was 4 years old. I knew then who I was going to be when I was an adult, or at least thought I did.

My parents thought I would change my mind. My dad even told me, “No, you can’t be a cheerleader the rest of your life.”

They were sure I would have children that would pester me, like I did them. They were sure that we all grow up and become the adult that society makes us into. I am over-simplifying life, but that is what we do to stay happy, positive and lighthearted.

I knew I was made to motivate and inspire others for as long as I can remember. I knew I would be a cheerleader for life, that I wouldn’t have children of my own, and that I would be organized and hardworking. Those beliefs I held as a child, I still hold today, for the most part. I knew all of this at age 4 and all of it came true and more.

The “more” is the life I live in the present, at age 44. The road of life that brings changes, roadblocks, boulders, mountains, and stoplights is constantly changing and unpredictable. I didn’t know what tomorrow will bring.

One day, all the roadblocks hit at once. I was 29 and never imagined anything like the life I have now. It was devastating for a while. I eventually realized that this is just life. I have the power and choice to make mine happy and productive. Things are going to happen that are great, devastating, happy, sad, and every level in between.

It shouldn’t take 3 years and 43 providers to get a proper diagnosis. But it did. Everyone should be able to live the life that they want. But most of us can’t. According to one survey, only 1 in 11 people are working in their childhood dream job.

So, what do we make of life when chronic illness strikes? Is life over?  I think not. I found a way to change my new realities so that -- even in pain -- I was living my dreams.

I think it would be even easier if you are among the 10 of 11 people who didn’t realize your destiny. Maybe you have been doing it all along. No matter if you know your destiny or are making it up as you choose, in each moment the core of you is the same.

Let’s face the challenges of living with chronic pain with more positivity, optimism and motivation. When the world gives us lemonade, we make margaritas. When it takes away the chocolate, we find new ways to make dessert.

I know my message may be hard to hear if you are a pain patient. So I will share a few tips on how I keep myself moving, keep being ME, and hopefully inspire you to look at life in a new way, when it’s not turning out as planned.

First, I realized that I can’t control all the things that happen to me, but I can decide how I will react to what happens. I can plan and counter-plan, and then make the best of the new reality.

We all have our stories. That is what we are creating here on earth. Stories should be shared. Sharing them can be a decisive action. Some are mere ripples and others can be tsunamis, meant to teach us and those with whom we share a new life lesson.

No one story is sadder or happier than anyone else’s. Life and how we react to it is what matters. You can choose your path, make a new one, or follow others. It really is up to you.

Developing a chronic illness changes how we see life. Pain changes everything about life. When a roadblock comes your way, take a step back, look around to explore the whole picture, and decide how you’d like to respond.

We must learn to be brave facing our new reality. When something does shake us to our core, we must take the time to face it, understand the emotions of the situation, and realize that tomorrow can be a better day. Being honest with myself, especially when things don’t go my way, reminds me to hold on for one more day. Things will change, even in the darkest of moments. Hold on and you can make it through.

Take the time to understand yourself, learn your new boundaries, test those boundaries, and know that it’s not your fault. Life just is what it is. What can you do to make it better for yourself?

It is important to be open to new treatment options, new health discoveries, and new life experiences (or old ones being done in a new way). Hanging on to what could have been would make me bitter and resentful.

Finally, remind yourself constantly that pain won’t get you down forever. It takes work to create the life that you want, and you may fail at times. It doesn’t mean that you are worth less, that you are not going to be successful, or that you can’t change the outcome to something more positive.

How you choose to respond is what matters and that is what life’s all about.

Barby Ingle lives with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), migralepsy and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain FoundationShe is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.

More information about Barby can be found at her website. 

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.