accident, back pain, disability, humor, Word War Won
Comments 14

Word War Won: Being Unreliable vs. Your Body Being Unreliable

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I could start this article with my usual apologies for my lengthy absence, but you know what? Pfffft. No. I’m not apologizing. I’ve had a crappy month. At the beginning of July I was what we in the legal profession like to call “kind of an idiot.” We bought a new computer chair for the home office. I was talking to my boss and decided to put my feet up on the table. I leaned back — and kept leaning back.


This would have been less embarrassing.

The chair had more give than I’d anticipated, and I went down like the Titanic. My left butt cheek had a bruise the size of a coffee cup, and it’s only just disappeared. Today’s the 21st. This happened July 4th weekend. I had to sit on my right cheek for almost three weeks! More important was the fact that my head hit the wooden floor. Meanwhile, I was talking to my boss while I fell. I could feel my mouth forming a very unprofessional word, managed to say “I’ll call you back,” and then called my dad in hysterics. Everything’s fine, nothing’s broken, the fusion is solid, but that was a hell of a setback. I am definitely looking forward to lumbar injections and a cervical radiofrequency ablation tomorrow.

My original point was that I am not going to apologize because I am working hard to improve my current situation, and that is a full-time job in and of itself. So. I have been attempting to pick up more work. I currently work a part-time position as an attorney editor, but I need to start picking up the slack. My therapist thinks that if I impose these goals and put them into effect, I will rise to meet the occasion. I agree. The worst-case scenario is that we’re both wrong and full-time work (or something close to it) is more than I can physically handle, and I have to quit. Again.

I worry that I will be unreliable. However, I know that this requires an important distinction, word-wise, which is why we are returning to the long-lost column I’d intended to make a weekly thing: WORD WAR WON!

[Insert theme music here]

Word War Won, for those who haven’t been following this blog for two years, is a recurring topic in which I stumble my way around aspects of cognitive behavioral therapy. Apparently, I was doing CBT without even realizing it simply by trying to reframe negative thoughts I have into positive ones.


I keep saying that I am unreliable. That’s not true. My condition is unreliable. I, for one, am actually quite reliable. I am on fire when I feel good. When I’m not dealing with a number of injuries, I can get a lot of work done. Since leaving my job, though, I’ve realized that I don’t like to make plans or put a pin in much of anything. Will I be able to make that appointment, or will my back be out that day? Will I be able to hang out with friends, or will my neck make it impossible to drive? “Sorry,” I tell people. “I’m unreliable. I have to make a game-day decision.”

No. I am reliable. Chronic pain and illness can make us feel like we aren’t. It’s like we have no control over our daily schedules because we don’t know how we’re going to feel in an hour, tomorrow, or next week. My current boss has come to understand that if I don’t have something done on Monday because of pain means that it’ll get done on Tuesday. I always have it done by the deadline, even if the path to get there was unorthodox. I work when I am able. I don’t put off work; I just do work when I know that I physically can. That is an important distinction, because I would be working far more if I could. I like working. I like producing things. It makes me feel accomplished and happy. I don’t like not knowing what I can promise because my body is unpredictable.  

How do I handle my condition’s unpredictability? As I said, I work when I am able. This means very strange hours of productivity. I rest when my body calls for it. It’s hard because it seems like I am operating at 30 percent capacity when I know that I am capable of far more. It’s difficult to wake up one day and realize there’s all this untapped potential that is going to be wasted because my sciatica is firing off or my neck is causing my head to pound.

That is not me. That is my condition. That is my body. That is not what I am. I am a hardworking individual who wants nothing more than to contribute to society. It’s taking a very long time, but I know I will get back there. This fall off the chair was nothing more than a setback, and I am going to get back up to speed.



Side note: I got a Bamboo Spark drawing pad, which uploads what I draw up into the cloud. How cool is that? Check out my stellar art skillz, yo!



  1. Jennifer,
    Love your blog! I always say, “I make game day decisions because my condition is not always up for the game.”

    I hope you realize what a beacon of light you are! I appreciate you and your willingness to share.

    Take care. There are lots of us that care about you!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. This is such a timely and important post for me right now. I have been wanting a doggie and when I met him my enthusiasm was tempered by the thought that I wasn’t reliable enough to take care of him. But your insight has really helped me see that I AM reliable even if my postherpetic neuralgia makes my body unreliable at times. Thank you so much…Terrie

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Terrie — thank you so much for your lovely comment. You should absolutely get a doggie! I had that exact same thought the other day (and most days, because I also want one), and then I wonder if I’d be able to play with that doggie consistently. But then, I guess it would depend on the temperament and personality of the dog. A beagle would be way more energetic than a basset hound. I feel that you and I would gravitate toward chilled-out lap dogs who have the same energy level as we do! 🙂


      • Thanks Jen – that’s why the Universe brought the perfect dog into my life (i get him next weekend) – instead of getting a rescue dog that may come with all sorts of issues (understandably – they are, in some ways, like us…lol) and are young, a coworker just happened to mention that her brother had an 8 year old husky (that’s my breed) that he had to get rid of because of family and life circumstances. He’s beautiful, loving and MELLOW – just what we need,, huh. thanks for the encouragement. I am praying i can do him justice in his new home. Thank you for your blog. it is so important.


  3. Do I ever understand this. I have friends who don’t even want to make plans with me now because they think I am flaky. I’m like, “You try going through what I have and be able to show up to everything at every time.” There is a reason I can’t work, and those people don’t seem to get it. I think I need to be in a wheelchair to be taken seriously.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Don’t you feel like every social interaction needs a disclaimer? “Hey, I’m not flaky, my BODY is flaky, yes, I appreciate that the distinction doesn’t matter to you, but it matters to me!” So far my friends have been remarkably understanding, but you’re right — definitely feel I need a visible placard or something to get acquaintances to understand!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Josh,
    you are so right – if they can’t see blood or guts hanging out, then there’s “nothing wrong with you” – too bad we can’t show them what we’re really experiencing. Glad we have each other on these blogs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad! Let me know how it goes! Once you start realizing the sort of words you’re using toward yourself, you’re like, “Wow, I would never talk to anyone else this way.” The words we say to ourselves can be so mean! “God, I’m so lame for not going out tonight.” “I’m so flaky and unreliable.” “I’m a crappy friend.” “I’m a terrible wife and person because my husband has to take care of me.” Would I talk to my friend that way? Nope, so I’m not talking to myself that way, either! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I couldn’t have said any of this better myself. I keep telling my husband that I want to work at something because I want to contribute, whether it is money or just feeling valued. My life coach has drilled into me that looking after me is my full-time job. I totally agree with that. I love what you said about the fact that it is your body, not you that fails. I need to adopt that frame of mind. I found you through the Chronic Illness Bloggers Network and I am glad I did. I belong as well.


  6. chronicmom says

    I love this! I’m always beating myself up for being unreliable, even though I know I have no control over whether or not my body cooperates. I’m going to remind myself in the future that it’s not me, my body is unreliable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s so hard to split those things up when it’s like — on one level, you ARE your body, but on another level I’ve also come to find that what the mind thinks, the body reflects. And as such, WE are not unreliable. Just our bodies, every now and again. 🙂


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