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Wellbeing / Health & wellbeing

The gain from pain – lessons learnt after illness

When faced with ill health or unhappy circumstances, are you quick to catastrophise or do you have faith that things will get better?

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If you’d asked me a few months ago, I’d have sworn I was a resilient bouncer backer. But a brush with a severe (but ultimately brief) bout of pain blew that assumption waaay out of the water. Far from being a robust type, I quickly descended into despair when my good health was compromised.

Fortunately I recovered quickly and while the experience did not bring out the best in me at the time, it has – as these things do – taught me some valuable lessons.

Appreciate and nurture good health

This should go without saying, of course, but do you? Really? That your body works matters. A lot. If you can help it on its way with good nutrition and an active lifestyle, so much the better.

"If you’d asked me a few months ago, I’d have sworn I was a resilient bouncer backer."

Allow your experience to inform, not dictate

The pain was pregnancy-related and the result of the baby pushing on a nerve. The first time it happened was in the last two weeks of my first pregnancy. With my third baby, it came on much sooner. “This is it!” I thought. “I’ve got ten more weeks of this!” (Googles “when baby full term” and “earliest safe Caesarean”.) However, the second bout only lasted a fortnight. My assumption that I’d be stuck with the pain for the rest of the pregnancy was completely wrong.

Expectations based on experience are often wide of the mark. It’s useful to recognise each story will unfold in its own manner. Maybe the pattern will repeat. Maybe it won’t. I now see being open to either possibility and taking each day as it came would have been way more useful than my ‘climb up the window to meet the rain’ approach.

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Avoid absolute words

Re-appreciating the need to take each day as it comes has made me pay particular attention to the language I use. I’m doing my best to phase out “always” and “never” from my lexicon and replace them with “often” or “rarely.” Phrases like “In my experience” or “I’ve noticed that” help to contextualise, too.

Make mistakes

I love this fortune cookie saying: “Failure is the breakfast of champions.” This article describes numerous instances of me being in the wrong and I learnt from every one of them. No doubt I’ll make more errors in judgement and learn more lessons.

Bring it on!

Has a compromise in your mental or physical health changed the way you look at the world?

Share your thoughts below.

Sam Leader

is a former director of Flying Solo and the co-author of Flying Solo - How to go it alone in business.

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