How I Turned My Chronic Pain Into Awareness

Some of my earliest memories are tainted with never-ending pain. But some of my greatest experiences, accomplishments and friends resulted from this pain as well. So when people ask me how chronic illness has affected me, I truly don’t know how to answer. It’s hurt me, it’s broken me, yet it hasn’t killed me. It’s transformed me, it’s enlightened me, but it hasn’t blessed me.

With Chiari malformation, laughter is a trigger to an excruciating headache. To be honest, the word “headache” doesn’t even get close to the actual pain radiating from the base of my skull and spreading through the rest of my body. As a child, before being diagnosed with Chiari, I coped with this ache by telling myself, “Well, if people can laugh so hard their stomach hurts, then I can laugh so hard that my head hurts.” Even my 6-year-old self desired an explanation for the strange chronic pain that no other kindergarteners seemed to experience! This debilitating symptom often resulted in leaving early from sleepovers and birthday parties because I’d start laughing… and the dreaded ache would manifest itself once again. Laughter was literally killing me.

And for years, I didn’t know how to cope with the volatile company that is chronic pain. All I’ve discovered is that embracing the situation helps you overcome the emotions quicker. I can’t change my pain, but I can change how I respond to it.

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience which you really stop to look fear in the face.” — Eleanor Roosevelt 

Now, when the pain is debilitating and someone notices my frail posture, I use it as a moment to spread understanding. I send links to websites, I tell my story, I explain the toll pain takes on my body. Rather than running away from the situation and hiding my true health state, I speak. And it’s so much more satisfying than hiding. I get to represent the hundreds of thousands of people across the United States that have the same condition as me. That’s something for me to be proud of. And it’s something you can be proud of too.

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