The Worst Thing Someone Said to Me About My Chronic Pain
At the last office job I had — before I realized I never wanted to work in an office again — I had a co-worker who (on the surface) was very similar to me. We were both into yoga and meditation. She was the mom of a young child; I wanted to be a mom. We both worked for the same environmental non-profit.
One of the core differences between us was that I live with an invisible chronic pain condition. I’ve had scoliosis since I was 12. I now have some excellent strategies for managing the pain and supporting my body with what it needs, but I still have scoliosis. I always will.
That being said, over the years, there have been days (or even weeks) that I’ve been stuck in bed with pain. I’m not in pain because of a moral failing or because I don’t do “enough” self-care or yoga or positive thinking or meditation. I do those things to support myself in the midst of my pain, not as a talisman against it.
One day, I was explaining to my co-worker that I am between a four and seven on the pain scale pretty much every day, and there are days I’m in too much pain to get out of bed. This doesn’t feel like a dramatic revelation to me; this is just my life, and I’m mostly at peace with it at this point. She seemed shocked, though.
“I just couldn’t live like that,” she finally exclaimed. I was stunned into silence. This is my life and, in fact, I live “like this” every day. I explained that it was something I was really experienced in.
Then she lowered the real boom. “I don’t know how you’re going to have a kid if you’re like this,” she said.
I might have actually staggered backward.
What I know now is that people with chronic pain and disability often trouble abled people. We disturb the comfortable myth that they will always be abled. We shock them into the frightening notion that they may not always be abled.
To me, my chronic pain is an important reminder of some essential truths. Impermanence comes for us all. Suffering is unavoidable.
Would I have chosen this for myself, if I’d had the choice? I wouldn’t. And yet, I have learned to live like this. I did have a child (who is magnificent, by the way). I did not have to wait for life to be perfect in order to enjoy the one I have. Every day, I wake up and I am, in fact, alive. Even with the pain, my life is absolutely worth it.
If the pain is less that day, I am exuberant, because I know I’ll be able to enjoy some of the things I love most. I can play with my child and we can go on adventures.
If the pain is more that day, I am tender with myself. I try not to judge or berate myself, but to see the pain as evidence that I require more patience and compassion with myself. My son and I read books or make art or watch Mr. Rogers, propped up in bed.
The pain isn’t a gift. But my life is. I live like this, and I am so very glad.