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8 Hard Questions I've Had to Answer as Someone With Chronic Pain

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1.5 billion people worldwide suffer from chronic pain, according to the American Academy of Pain Medicine. Especially with age, everyone experiences some form of chronic pain in their lifetime, and yet many face-to-face discussions about chronic pain and illnesses are still taboo.

From my experience, here are the “top 8 hard questions” I’ve had to answer and believe should be more openly and consistently discussed in order to start erasing stigmas and discrimination about people battling chronic pain and illness:

8. “You look ok…?” 

Thank you. Whenever you see me, it will almost always be on a good day. I do my very best to look “normal,” as we all do, and to live in the moment. But, I am always in pain, though the levels vary greatly between good days and bad days.

7. “Have you tried ___?” 

Whatever alternative medicine, vitamin, diet, exercise regimen or even spiritual ideas you have about how I can feel better, I can assure you I have tried almost everything. However, I do love that you care enough to offer up what could possibly become a new treatment method to try in the incessant pursuit of pain management. One of my biggest challenges is accepting my diagnoses and limitations, so please do not solicit unrealistic “advice” that insists I can be “cured.” Nor is it helpful to generalize comparisons of my situation with someone else.

6. “Do you use narcotics?” 

Yes. Do I want to? An emphatic no. I’d rather not require any medications, but I do. I waited as long as was physically possible before needing to try narcotic options, and even still I’m on the lowest possible dose. I’m also constantly trying to stop taking my meds to see if I can go without, though annual flu viruses force this check-up. You also do not get “high” if you follow the prescription, or perhaps if you don’t require them anymore.

5. “How is your mental health?”

To live with chronic pain and illness means fighting anxiety and depression, as well as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in my case. Admittedly, when fatigue and pain levels are high, my mind goes into survival mode, honing in on pain signals and healing. When this happens, I can temporarily have trouble expressing what I’m thinking and have memory issues.

4. “Why aren’t you working more?”

I would give anything to be able to earn even regular part-time wages, but I’m physically unable to stand or sit for long enough each day. Period. There will always be people who look down on the fact that my very survival depends on government aid. In reality, I am constantly fighting to a) improve my health so that I can work more and hopefully one day not require disability payments at all b) to be mentally OK with the fact I cannot work regular hours anymore and c) to find alternative ways of working around my limitations.

3. “Couldn’t you live the life you’ve always dreamed of if you’d just snap out of it?”

Unfortunately, chronic depression, anxiety and often post-traumatic stress disorder go hand in hand with chronic pain. The uncertainty of finances and health is an enormous source of pressure that occasionally induces a deep fear of failure. Although it will take longer than you expect because I must adjust almost everything to fit my health, I am achieving my goals and will fulfill my dreams.

2. “Do you want (and are you able to have) kids some day?”  

I would love nothing more than to be a mom to one, maybe two kids. There is a possibility that I can’t conceive due to my injuries, but I was told all I can do is try. If I can’t, I would adopt. And of course I’d have the assistance of a patient, loving guy (the only types of guys I date).

1. “Is there anything I can do…?”

The three things you can do to help me or someone battling chronic pain are: 1) Distract me from the pain simply by talking. Personally, visual distractions seem to work best. 2) Talk to me — swap survival tactics with me, and most importantly 3) Educate yourself with verified sources about my health problems.

Originally published: June 29, 2016
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