My car tire sprung a slow leak. I filled it with air at the local gas station, ignored the tire pressure warning light, and continued on my daily juggling act.
Between a part-time job, Maid-of-Honor planning duties, daily headaches, near-daily migraines, the chores of taking care of a snow-covered home and a blind kitty, and small contributions to patient advocacy, my life has become a juggling act. I begin each day with less energy than required to get everything done, and yet I manage. I postpone, cancel, and schedule in sick time, but I manage.
Chronic Migraine has introduced a slow leak into my life. I have no time for a slow leak in my tire.
Like most of life’s problems, ignoring my leaking tire only made it worse. By the time I realized my tire wasn’t holding air, I had driven hundreds of miles and effectively wrecked my tire.
I finally crawled out of bed and my Migraine haze and took my car to the shop, but by this time my gas tank was emptier than my tire. My car had been slowly breaking down, lighting up warnings on the dash and dinging at me to get my attention. The longer I ignored it the worse it got.
If that isn’t a perfect metaphor for chronic illness, I don’t know what is.
Literally and figuratively, I’ve been running on empty with chronic pain.
It’s Okay to Ask For Help
Every time I have been struggling in my life, I have been able to turn to my parents. I am incredibly lucky. Whether the problem is my increasing disability or a leaky tire, my parents often recognize the issue and interfere before I even ask for help. (Really, what more could you ask from parents? I am so grateful and so filled with love for them.)
Eventually, my dad filled up my tire and made me an appointment at the tire shop. My mom took car of business at the shop so I wouldn’t have to withstand the smell of the rubber tires. (For those less acquainted with chronic illness or Chronic Migraine, strong smells can be difficult to handle at best or trigger migraines at worst.) She even filled up my gas tank for me and picked my car up at the end of the day.
Over dinner she told me, “Did you know you were running on empty? I filled up your tank for you.”
Oh, Mom, if only could you help with the other empty tanks in my life!
Lessons Learned by Running on Empty with Chronic Pain
The way I see it, this story has at least three different morals.
Moral #1: I am not the most responsible adult. This point is pretty obvious, and you very well may be shaking your Baby-boomer head at me. I’m not proud of my terrible ability to take care of my car, but I’m trying. And I’ve learned to stop ignoring the lights on my dashboard.
Moral #2: It’s okay to drop the ball. When you’re juggling a full life on top of chronic illness, sometimes you have to chose which ball you let hit the floor. In this case, I dropped the ball on my car. Next week, it will likely be something, but I will try my hardest to keep juggling.
Moral #3: Our support systems are so valuable when we need help. Asking for help is so hard, and not everyone has parents who understand their illnesses. Everyone with a chronic illness needs help from time to time, whether it’s in-person help with daily logistics or emotional support from friends online. Never be afraid or ashamed to admit you dropped the ball and need help. We are stronger together.
Tell me – Are you running on empty with chronic pain? Do you ask for help when you need it?
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