Limits: Emotionally Managing Chronic Ailments


Trapped in a prison of writhing pain, pulsing down my back, tensing my shoulders, pounding the base of my skull, beating behind my eyes…no medication or home-remedy can gift an escape. These migraine headaches have plagued me my whole life. They have not only assaulted me physically but emotionally as well. While I cannot say I am thankful for them or could even nobly consider them a blessing, I have learned many things about myself, my insecurities, and what it means to be human…not perfect, but worthy and valued all the same. Here are a few thoughts.

Learning my Limits – It seems as if almost every retail store is littered with posters and mugs and other paraphernalia imprinted with the phrase, “I Can Not Do It All.” It’s a simple enough phrase, but I struggle to own it as true for me. I am inclined to work until the job is done, but I often find that my body quits before a task is complete. Early inklings of my pain attempt to warn me and I push through and press on instead of heeding my pain’s admonitions. But lately I’m learning that part of being human is having limits…acknowledging that I cannot do it all. When I am willing to be vulnerable about my limits and “shortcomings,” I encourage a different relationship with myself, and deeper connections with others. While inconvenient and at times, painful, limits remind us of the grace we ought to have for ourselves as well as our need for others.

Asking for Help – It’s difficult to ask for help. But the truth, we were not meant for lives of isolation – we are made for relationship. Acknowledging our need for help when we are in pain and accepting others’ offers to assist us builds connection with our loved ones. For most of us, we are more comfortable being or acting self-sufficient. However, what we fail to understand is there is strength in acknowledging that we are not always strong.

Compassion for Others – As I mentioned in my note, I cannot pretend to understand the depth and breadth of pain that others’ experience. But I do know what it’s like to feel like excruciating pain will never end, that there is no solution to end our struggle for good, that our pain can come with a surprise attack and ruin the most joyous of occasions. The blessing of this knowledge is of course not in the experience itself, but in the opportunity to have empathy for others. Not only can we help, but we can give others the gift of “getting it,” which is perhaps the most valuable gift of all.

Know Our Worth – I have a long history of defining my value based on my performance. The more I do and the better I do it, the more impressive and thus, more valuable I am. Having my day wiped clean by a headache and being incapacitated challenges me to recognize that my value stems from who I am and not what I get done. Owning the truth that I am loved and worthy in the midst of being unable to perform, allows me the freedom to take proper care of myself and heal, giving myself grace in the process.

Whatever our limitations may be in life, we are wise to ask how our struggles may be asking us to grow, learning to see the invitation in the most trying of circumstances. What could we gain when we give up the need to do it all?

Tim Schraeder