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To My Family Member Who Lives With Chronic Pain

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“It doesn’t get better, you just get better at handling it.”

Recently I wrote a letter to myself 20 years ago, the me who was spiraling out of control both inside and out due to my chronic pain. I began thinking about all the people I love, and I thought of a family member of mine who also suffers from chronic pain. Until I began sharing my story with the world, neither of us knew the other had chronic pain. I have shocked a lot of friends and family members with my honesty. I guess I hid chronic pain pretty well from the people I love because most had no idea I was suffering from an invisible illness. I was shocked this beautiful, intelligent family member of mine had chronic pain as well. She is filled with such radiance, and I remember as a little girl dancing with her at one of my uncle’s weddings. Just goes to show how deceiving looks can be, especially when it comes to an invisible illness.

About a year ago, this certain family member contacted me. This letter is for her, and I hope it finds her well. I will call her Bonny.

Dear Bonny,

I was shocked, happy and sad when you wrote me about your story. My heart hurt for you because I know all too well what you were/are going through. Honestly, when I think back to the younger Jessica who was literally drowning in pain, I get tears in my eyes thinking about the former me and all the millions of people crying in bed at this very moment because of chronic pain. You do not deserve this — none of you do — and even to me, some things make no sense. Yes, my story goes from brain surgery, to years of literal hell, to wanting to die, to acceptance/learning how to manage pain naturally, to me now, at the age of 34 with a 4-year-old daughter. However, I did not snap my fingers and feel better; quite the contrary. I went from almost dying twice to living a life I never planned but made happen despite chronic pain. 

With that said, there have been many bumps in the road, and I still have some difficult days and nights.  Last night was difficult because I overdid it yesterday, and by 8 at night, my body was yelling at me. Years ago, my mind would have been in total catastrophic mode, shouting into my cells, “Great, Jessica. Now you really screwed up. Do you realize because you did so much even though you knew it would not turn out well, we are doomed? Tonight is just a little taste of what the next few days will be like — hell, the next week.” I don’t do that anymore, which is a feat in itself. I know when I wake up it is a new day, and I have control over my pain and the pain does not control me. Yes, I awoke from a bad dream I have had many nights in a row, but instead of lying there, thinking about my worries, I got up and did a 45-minute yoga practice, which helped my body and mind.

Bonny, I love you, and you have so many blessings in your life you are aware of and have gratitude for despite pain. I know if I can get to the point where I am with this invisible illness, you can. I wish I had known years ago. I wish you lived closer so I could hug you and truly let you know everything will be OK. I hope you see in you what I have always seen in you: light, kindness and a warm heart. No chronic pain, nor any chronic condition, can take away that, ever. You are not your illness by any means.

I am sure pain and worry cause you to act in ways you would not if you had no pain, but this is common. People without a chronic illness act moody or different when they have the stomach flu or an acute migraine, and everyone usually understands why he or she is acting different.  People just forget we are dealing with some form of illness or pain that never goes away, so give yourself a break, OK? When you are sad or worried or having a difficult day — or 10 difficult days strung together — email me or call me. I love you, and I am here for you. Remember this, please: you are doing the best you can, and you are not alone at all. 

I know what you feel each day and night, as do many others suffering from an invisible illness. Everything changes, nothing stays the same and a few months or years from now, you are going to be shocked at how far you have come. I am your biggest fan.

Love always,

Jessica and her daughter sitting in a theater
Jessica and her daughter sitting in a theater

Follow this journey on No One Gets Flowers for Chronic Pain.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

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Originally published: February 18, 2016
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