Wednesday, July 04, 2007

pain & independence


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How does pain affect your independence? Do you push yourself too hard? Do you hide the fact that you're in pain? Is it hard to ask for help?

I was invited to address these questions, along with several other people who blog about pain, by How To Cope With Pain. To see all the other posts, go to the How to Cope with Pain blog.

Living with chronic migraines has been an exercise in retreat from independence. I have lost my livelihood and identity to migraines, forcing me to re-examine my life plan and accept my new reality.

I always wanted to be a lawyer. Though I explored other options during college, when I reached my final year, I applied to law schools knowing it was the right choice for me.

I went straight from undergrad to law school and gave 100% of my effort to my legal education. I did well academically and passed the bar on my first shot. A few weeks after the bar, I landed my dream job. I smugly thought things had fallen perfectly into place.

However, life had other plans for me. Almost immediately upon starting my job in the fall of 2003, my once sporadic migraines became increasingly frequent and debilitating.

Eight months ago, I lost my job and stopped practicing law because of my chronic migraines. In that moment, I went from the autonomous position of financially supporting myself, and even occasionally traveling and shopping, to complete reliance on my husband and family to keep my head above water.

The loss of autonomy probably has not been as difficult as losing my sense of myself. I strongly identified myself by and through my career and status as a lawyer. I was proud of my accomplishments, and I liked how it felt to be able to say I was a lawyer. The indignity of my situation led me to believe I was done with law as a career. I'm just now, through therapy, regaining enough confidence to put myself back out there and even call myself a lawyer without feeling like a fraud.

I know this adversity has taught me a lot about myself and shaped the woman I am today, but I believe I've paid too high a price for this exercise in character development. For now I'm in a tense holding pattern. However, for the first time in a long time, I feel hopeful that I may be able to put the pieces of my life and my career back together and, eventually, feel more pride in myself than shame. Regaining my autonomy will be the key.

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