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The Difference Between ‘Sharing’ and ‘Dumping’ Your Experience With Pain

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Chronic pain is something that millions of Americans live with on a daily basis. 

I am one of them. I’ve been living with an autoimmune chronic illness for the past 21 years, and with that has come chronic pain. It doesn’t matter what is going on in life, or whether my lupus is in remission, pain is simply part of my “normal.”

The reason you would never know this about me is that it’s extremely rare I say something about it. I choose to suffer in silence because I don’t like to complain. I don’t want to be that person or grouped in with people who are known for complaining (because we all know at least one of them). I don’t want sympathy or special treatment, and I don’t want people to feel I’m dumping my issues on them.

Years ago, I learned the importance of setting up boundaries in my life with people and situations. But pain is something I put the wrong types of boundaries on. I’ve always pushed through to keep a commitment, to put on a show that all was fine, to not let people down, not realizing that pretending things were fine was probably more detrimental because I wasn’t being true to the reality.

When you live with chronic illness, you never know how you’re going to feel waking up each morning. Can you function, can you move and progress through your normally scheduled plans? And ask yourself this: have you figured out your breaking point, because we all have one, and the more we try to ignore it, the more it will build up and cause stress inside us.

I accept that every day is a day with pain. What varies is the level, and it’s that level that determines my moves for the day. And although I choose to rarely discuss it, it doesn’t mean I’m not experiencing it. It just means that my perspective is different from that of many people. Things could always be worse than the hardest struggles, and the reality is that they can always get worse. My standard has always been that if I hit anything over a 12 on a 1-10 scale, I say something. I recently went through a period where my pain was so high, I hit that breaking point and was emotionally broken. I battled depression, the inability to be productive, the sadness, the mental turmoil. It was never a question of “why me,” but more of a question of “when will this pass?”

My doctors tell me not to be a martyr, that there must be something that we can do for pain management. It has nothing to do with being a martyr because again, I don’t want sympathy. I choose to not say anything because I don’t want to be looked at differently. And medication I’ve tried in the past just hasn’t seemed to work for me. I think sometimes when we battle these  invisible illnesses and are suffering, we always have a risk to become insecure about the way other people think of us. I don’t ever want to be known as someone who always has something to say, someone who burdens other people with her problems, because here is the hard truth: no one truly cares about our problems, and we shouldn’t want them to. 

We are all going through some kind of struggle in our lives, facing some form of challenge, carrying our individual crosses. And how many times do we choose to keep it to ourselves, to hold it in and not say anything because we were concerned about how we would appear to others? More times than we will care to admit. On the other hand, how many times have you been the recipient of someone who just won’t stop complaining, unloading their problems on you, expecting you to be able to either say something that will make things all right or just share in their misery with them? I’ve been that recipient too many times.

I have learned that there is a difference between “dumping” your problems on people and “sharing” them with those close to you. Dumping is unloading them onto someone else because, in a way, it lessens your own personal load. But your problems should not be taken care of by someone else. More importantly, that someone else has problems of their own, and now you expect them to carry yours. Sharing, on the other hand, is confiding in people who love you and letting them into your life. Sharing is vulnerability, and I’m still learning that there is no shame in it. I silently struggled with thoughts of being a burden which was a reason I didn’t want to overshare. But I’ve learned that those who love me, want to know what’s going on in my life, they want to be helpful and present through my struggle, and it is up to me to remember that they want what’s best for me.

Life with any chronic illness ebbs and flows. You go through good and bad times, and find the methods and means that help you cope in the healthiest manner. I’ve always turned to writing or meditating at the beach with my dogs to help me through those times, but we all find things that speak to us.

We get through struggle when we recognize and acknowledge what is causing the struggle and make the attempts and effort to adjust things in our lives. If the struggle is due to something we cannot change or have no control over, then we learn how to adjust our minds. The most important thing to remember is that life happens. And sometimes, it really is OK not to be OK. Because amidst the struggle we go through, we need to remember that we’re going to get through it, no matter how much time it can take, that this struggle is merely a moment in the grand book of our lives. That life, even a life with temporary pain, is too great of a gift to give up on. And mainly, that no matter how great your struggle may seem, try to stay hopeful through it all… because this too shall pass.

Photo by Katiuscia Maria

Originally published: September 10, 2018
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