Victim or Victor?
Have you ever thought about your relationship to chronic pain? Are you a victim of it or a victor over it? When you are suffering with unrelenting pain day after day, it’s very easy to slip into a victim mentality.
Below are two descriptions of life with chronic pain, each given by a fibromyalgia patient. See if you can tell what makes one patient a victim and the other a victor.
Patient #1 - "My life was great before I got sick. I worked ten to twelve-hour days, but my job was challenging and rewarding. I had a wide variety of interests and took an active part in my community, teaching aerobics classes and working with the local theater group. I even went back to school and took a couple of classes each semester. Thanks to fibromyalgia, that’s all gone now. I had to give up the job I loved to take something with shorter hours and less stress. Even with that, it takes everything I have to get out of bed and drag myself to work every morning. Then when I get home, all I can do is collapse. I spend my weekends resting and trying to build up enough strength to face another week. As for a social life - what’s that? I’m too tired and in too much pain to even think about going out or doing anything that’s not absolutely essential. I feel so useless - like my life doesn’t have a purpose anymore. Sometimes I wonder why God is keeping me here. I can’t face the thought of feeling like this for the rest of my life."
Patient #2 - "My life is certainly different than I thought it would be, and very different than it was before I developed fibromyalgia. It may sound crazy, but even though I miss some of the things I used to be able to do, some aspects of my life are actually better. Of course, I went through a period of feeling sorry for myself and mourning my old life. But then I decided it was time to take a good hard look at my life and figure out what I could do to make it better. The first thing I realized I needed to do was to move back to my hometown so I could be closer to my children and grandchildren. They are the most important people in my life and traveling to see them was getting more and more difficult. Next, I realized I had to make a career change. Trying to work a regular eight-to-five job was not helping me get any better. It wasn’t easy, but eventually I was able to figure out a way to work from home. Now I can work when I’m feeling my best and take a break when I need to rest. Best of all, I’m making a living doing what I had always dreamed of - writing."
It’s fairly obvious that the first patient is the victim and the second is the victor. What you may not realize, though, is that both patients are the same person - and that person is me. A dozen or so years ago, I was Patient #1. Today, I am Patient #2.
What made such a difference? How did I manage to go from being a victim to being a victor? I took control. Victims are at the mercy of someone or something else. Victors take control of the situation and come out on top. I decided it was up to me to take control of my life and make it into what I wanted it to be.
Taking Control of My Attitude
The first step was to take control of my attitude. I was tired of feeling like a victim. The only way I knew how to get rid of that feeling was to change my attitude about my illness and my life. I was spending far too much time focusing on all the things I couldn’t do; so I made a conscious decision to focus on the things I could do. I realized that even though I had some physical limitations, who I am had not changed. I was still the same caring, creative person I had always been. I just had to find new ways to use my abilities and talents. I still had something of value to offer my family and the world.
Taking Control of My Actions
Once I took control of my attitude and started focusing on what I could do, it was time to take control of my actions and actually start doing things differently. First, I sat down with a piece of paper and a pen and made a list of the priorities of my life. Since my energy and physical abilities were limited, I figured I should be using those precious assets to fulfill my top priorities. Much to my surprise, what I was doing didn’t match up at all with what my priorities were I was so caught up in doing what I thought I "had" to or "should" be doing that I had postponed those things that were actually most important to me.
With this new revelation, I began to think about what changes I needed to make so that I could spend my time and energy on what was most important to me - my family and my writing. This wasn’t a quick or easy process. The changes didn’t happen overnight - or even over a year. But little by little, I made changes along the way and gradually I got where I wanted to be.
Another important action I took control of was my healthcare. I began to educate myself by studying everything I could find on fibromyalgia. And if a doctor was not willing to work with me to find the best treatment options for me, I found another doctor. I also looked into and tried a number of complementary therapies, keeping those that helped. When I had a flare, I took note of what may have triggered it. As much as possible, I learned to avoid the activities and situations that tended to lead to flares.
The end result is that I am no longer a victim of fibromyalgia - I am a victor over it. Yes, I still have pain, but I have better control of that pain than ever before. And in spite of the pain, I consider my life to be rewarding and worthwhile.
It’s Up to You
Whether you are a victim of your pain or a victor over it is up to you. It’s a matter of choice. Just because you have pain doesn’t mean you have to be a victim. You can take control of your attitude, your actions, your healthcare, and ultimately your life. You can make the choice to be a victor!
Karen is the Co-Founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association. She wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Pain Management.