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Why We Need to Give a Voice to Our Chronic Pain

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It wasn’t my own pain that broke me, but the sound of someone else’s. The hospital curtain was no barrier to the woman’s anguished sobbing.  I wanted to reach out from my own hospital bed to reassure her that everything would be OK. How could I though, when all I had to offer was empty platitudes for comfort? I had no miracle treatment, no one-pill wonder to give her back the life she’d lost to pain. The distance between dreams and reality had never seemed so vast. So we lay there, side-by-side in unspoken communion of all the vagaries of chronic pain. Passing ships in the night, I never saw that woman again, but her desperate need for relief stayed with me.

Suddenly, I was seeing chronic pain everywhere – at the pharmacy, at the physiotherapist’s and spanning across all age groups and genders. The one commonality was that the confession of chronic pain was always quietly worded, almost shamefully disclosed. I couldn’t wrap my head around why chronic pain was somehow less legitimate than other conditions when it wasn’t merely a symptom, but a disease in its own right. Sure, it isn’t lethal; instead, its more insidious Sisyphean nature slowly wears away at the soul.

Empathy is the bedrock of humanity, and yet it’s as rare as holding a diamond in your hand. In all my years in and out of doctors’ offices, I have yet to become inured to the struggling of others. And I’m glad. It’s what sets me marching ever-forward against the rising tide of chronic pain and the powerful misconceptions that bar the way to timely treatment. When I say treatment, I don’t just mean healing in the medical sense. I also mean healing in the way that happens when a network of people evade the doubting Thomas trap of failing to believe what can’t be seen. That’s where we come in. People living with chronic pain, chronic pain researchers, health care policy-makers and medical professionals. The single most powerful phrase you can tell someone in pain is “I believe you.” We can’t fight this battle alone, though we certainly do our part to manage our health. So when my local hospital’s donation form comes in the mail with the areas in need of funding listed sequentially, I despair when chronic pain is omitted. Part of my healing process has been crafting beauty from despair, finding light in darkness and becoming part of a movement that’s bigger than myself.  There are days when the climb seems endless and I want to take cover, close the blinds and escape to a place where pain has no hold over my body. But then I remember. I am needed. My experience with pain is needed to stir apathy to action. Until chronic pain finds its place among other chronic illnesses, until chronic pain receives steady funding for research, for health care, my voice is needed. And so is yours. I can’t think of anything more powerful or more important than being able to change the course of a life. To be able to give someone hope that circumstance would otherwise deny them. Thank you for joining me in my journey of supporting the advancement of chronic pain care on all fronts. Your research and your advocacy matters.

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Thinkstock photo via filitova.

Originally published: April 26, 2017
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