Learning to Share the Weight of My Chronic Pain
Imagine carrying an 80-pound bag of ready to mix concrete on your shoulders. All the time. Imagine the 80-pound bag is invisible to everyone. It is exhausting. Draining. Yet you must go about your day as if nothing is wrong, taking the kids to school, making dinner, working, grocery shopping — the list never ends. If you stop, you feel like you will never move again, so you work through the weight you are carrying.
Chronic pain is that weight in my everyday life. Sometimes I acknowledge it aloud to my loved ones by telling them I am having a bad day. Other times I keep it to myself. I know they must be tired of hearing how my pain is present. They can’t see it and that makes it harder to understand. I know my family wants to find a magic pill to cure me, but when I look “normal” on the outside, it is easy for them to forget that even while binge-watching Netflix, my pain is throbbing. While I am cooking dinner, my neck is seizing in pain, and while I am trying to go to bed, the pain is often so intense that the thought of lying down keeps me in my recliner until the wee hours of the morning.
My public persona is not a private one. As the wife of a pastor and an outspoken advocate in the bleeding disorder community, my life is busy and filled with being in the public eye. I am grateful to have those moments where I can advocate and minister to others and I am definitely genuine in my time with these amazing people, but sometimes I am working so hard to mask my pain that I forget my purpose. Yet I keep moving. I am grateful to have the life I live, because without the roles I have in the world, I would never leave my home.
If I stop moving, the pain will win. Of course, there are times I need to sit with my heating pad, lie down and work through my stretching exercises, and give my pain medications time to “kick in,” but I always have a project that needs completing. That is what keeps me moving forward despite the pain. Not everyone living with chronic pain is physically able to do the things I do, and for that reason I keep moving — because I still can.
There are nights when my family has all retired to their bedrooms and I am still awake. “I’ll be in shortly,” I say, as I watch the last part of my favorite television show or make a few more stitches on a quilting project. What they don’t know is that I am often dealing with extremely high levels of pain, so high I can barely breathe. Yet I tell them, “I love you, sweet dreams,” without a hint of how my insides are screaming in pain.
My pain is mine. It doesn’t belong to my family or my friends. As much as I want to keep my issues to myself, I have realized I need to let those closest to me into my world. While they can’t take away my pain, they can offer support, prayers and strength when I have none left.
If you live with pain, don’t keep it to yourself. Reach out to your loved ones. They may not understand how to help you, but the ones who are truly closest to you will listen. And sometimes that is the best medicine.