Being an Outdoors-person With Chronic Pain

(3.7 minute read)

I don’t have the best genes one could wish to have, and a consequence of that is chronic back pain. Shortly before college, in fact, it was so severe that some days my 18-year-old self couldn’t even get out of bed. I remember laying there, quite frequently, in misery, thinking about all the things I wanted to do, and wondering if I’d ever be able to do them. I wondered if this was just my life from now on, and if it was, then what? I still had how many years of life left? And I was going to spend it in pain, day-dreaming about going on adventures instead of actually adventuring? I thought not.

After a few more consultations with various doctors, and the passing of time, I was at least able to move again. I was in pain, but I was in pain regardless of whether I was moving; what was the difference between suffering while lying in bed, and suffering while scaling a mountain? Humility, mostly. And, of course, the view.

I realized I could choose to pity myself, or focus on things outside of myself. I could stay in my room, or stay in a tent. I could avoid answering questions about why I suddenly went from being athletic to being “crippled,” or I could repeat the explanation (for the 62nd time) and follow it up with another plea for assistance… even though I didn’t want to. I had to accept a loss of independence, asking for people’s help, but I would be fooling myself if I thought I kept any independence by caging myself inside thick walls. The only difference was whether I’m weak alone, or weak in front of people I wished would look up to me–depend on me.

It’s embarrassing to ask my peers to carry my backpack. It’s embarrassing to lag behind everyone else on hikes, because the scant weight I do carry puts so much pressure on my back that I can’t breathe properly. It’s embarrassing to be so overly cautious when rock climbing, to make sure the harness doesn’t suddenly yank on my spine. It’s embarrassing watch everyone else lift supplies out of canoes, when I can’t. It’s embarrassing to come away from a skiing trip bent over like a 90-year old woman. It’s embarrassing to leave the evening campfire early because the only thing I can think about is laying down somewhere, giving myself a small rest from the constant tug of gravity.

Humility won’t kill you, though. Humility is one of those virtues that’s hardest for me to seek of my own volition… so my pain, perhaps, is a blessing in disguise. At any rate, I’ll take some mortification over the alternative, as long as I’m able. Life is so very short, and I don’t want to look back on it wondering “what if?”


6 thoughts on “Being an Outdoors-person With Chronic Pain

  1. Wow, this is a really honest account. Good for you. I’m suffering from a somewhat similar chronic pain issue that’s stopping me from doing so many of the outdoor activities I’ve longed to do. It’s scary being young and just set free into the world, then having to deal with such stark reality of injury or disease. Luckily my problems should not be life-long. Somehow I still haven’t managed to fully learn the lesson of patience yet from my experience (look at me impatient about impatience 😂), so there’s lots of adventure and growing to come still.

    Cheers and all the best- is your back pain better these days?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a scary thing! Well learning patience can be a life-long endeavor, I know it will be for me :D Thank you for sharing your thoughts! Unfortunately it’s not better these days, but that’s just how the dice roll. :)


  2. By allowing infirmities and other significant challenges to come our way, God provides us with precious opportunities to grow in certain virtues that we might in no other way obtain. These painful crosses are a sign He really loves us most dearly. For He rewards the faithful and virtuous sufferer with a greater closeness to Himself, if not in this life, certainly in the joyful and glorious life to come.

    I will pray for you each day, Jo Robin, as you strive, through your infirmity, to grow in the virtue of humility. Please pray for me that I may grow in the virtue of patience through my infirmity, which is similar to yours. May God give us the vision to see beyond the pain and the shame, and the wisdom to see our sufferings as precious gifts.

    God bless!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t have a chronic back pain, but I don’t have chronic pain and it’s interesting because some of my loved ones don’t even realized that I love the outdoors and the mountains because I spend my time lying down watching TV when I’m not working because my pain is caused my physical activity. It’s unfortunate. From what I’ve learned though and to go on from your post is that as long as you listen to your body, and go slowly, you can still do the things you want to do and enjoy life. Who cares if you do them slower. Find a group of understanding friends and family who want you to enjoy the scenery with them and don’t mind taking more frequent breaks or helping you out more because they want you there. I have multiple chronic health issues and some people in my life push me to do more and go after my dreams at a faster rate, but I ignore them because I know my body and I know that as long as I accomplish my goals and am able to do what I love to do, that’s all that matters, even if it is at a slower pace than I’d like.


  4. Didn’t hit the like button because I like you being in pain – I respect your willingness to be so transparent about how the chronic pain alters how you have to make compromises and live your life.


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