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To the Woman Who Will Be Changed Forever by Your Chronic Pain Diagnosis

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Dear Jessica,

I know right now you are in complete and total shock and truly do not believe you can go on. You fell off your bicycle (that amazing pink cruiser you got right before seventh grade) and ended up having brain surgery that would alter your life forever.

Cognitively you are fine, but you gave everyone quite a scare. You fell off your bike into a stone wall, and being the stubborn Jessica you are, walked home from the accident despite the many cars that pulled over to help you. You had no idea your brain was bleeding from within. You only knew you had broken some bones because you were unable to move your right arm. Your head was pounding and you were dizzy, but even before the diagnosis that would change you forever, you only said, “I’m fine” to anyone who pulled over to help you.

Once you arrived home, Dad took you to the hospital, where they also thought you just broke some bones and had some bruises. After strapping your arm up in a sling due to a broken collarbone, the doctors released you. Halfway out the hospital doors, you began to throw up, which you would later find out was a sign of a head injury. The doctor decided to give you a cat scan, just in case. You must have had an angel even back then because, had you not thrown up before leaving those hospital doors, I’m not sure I would be here writing you this letter.

Fifteen minutes later, you were in an ambulance headed to the best trauma unit in our area to have immediate brain surgery. You awoke in the ICU the following day with half a shaved head, a feeding tube, catheter and a ton of confusion. Dad was right next to you and explained everything that had transpired just 24 hours prior. I wish this was the most difficult part of my letter to you, but sadly it is not.

Afterward, it was a rough year to say the least, but you were alive and beat the odds of a tragedy no one saw coming. You got a ton of attention and people were so happy you were OK, and there were no serious effects from surgery. You were still the smart, funny, happy Jessica who would look just as she did once all the hair grew back and the outside scars healed. This is the part of the letter I have dreaded writing, but I promise your story has a happy “ending,” so bear with me.

Although the scars heal, you end up being diagnosed with something called chronic pain: an invisible illness you spend the next 10 years trying to cure. The next 10 years will be the scariest, most painful years of your lifetime, but I promise these years will make you the strongest person I have yet to meet. You have many surgeries during these years to try to take the physical pain away, which I can tell you now only end up making the pain worse, but how could you know? You are prescribed every medication known to man and endure every side effect possible.  You spend most of your time either in doctor’s offices, school or with friends trying to numb the pain. You gain weight because as the years progress, your hopes for any cure or relief to this physical pain will disappear. You declare medical bankruptcy because of all the medical bills that pile up over the weeks, months and years and end up coming to a point of self-destruction. You drop everything in your life, including college and your dreams of motherhood, a family and your hopes of being a teacher/writer. The idea of living in physical pain for the rest of your life becomes too much to bear, and you hit rock bottom. You spend your nights crying and partying. This cycle of destruction continues for a little over a year until a person who cares for you takes you to the Mayo Clinic, and against your will you enter a program where you learn to live with chronic pain naturally and accept this diagnosis: a diagnosis that came way too close to being your death sentence. Chronic pain came closer to killing you than brain surgery.

My heart breaks for you. You endured so much pain, both physical and emotional, for over a third of your lifetime, and I left you. I gave up on us, and I am sorry for that. However, I picked you back up, and you worked your ass off to accept chronic pain and learn to live with it without it affecting your happiness or stealing your dreams.

I want to write that I found a cure for you and you never had to deal with chronic pain again for the rest of your life, but I cannot do that for you. I never found a cure to chronic pain. However, I did find you/us health and happiness despite chronic pain. You get your degree in social work, and you love to exercise and practice mindfulness/meditation and yoga. You become a mom, a great mom at that. You are now 34 — that must sound ancient to you, huh?  The good news is, your 30s are far better than your 20s, and chronic pain no longer rules your life. You have some difficult moments, but you are not only surviving — you are living. You are making your dreams come true: motherhood, family and health, and best of all, you are helping those with chronic pain who feel as you do now: hopeless and depressed.  I’m sorry for the destruction I caused you for those 10 years once you found out you had chronic pain, but you will learn how to help yourself. Chronic pain will most likely be a part of your life forever, but you do not have much time to focus on that. You have much bigger and better things to do.

I love you, Jessica. I did not love you for a long time. I hated our diagnosis and I hated my actions, but I love you now, and I promise things will get so much better. Chronic pain will make you the strongest, most empathetic, grateful person I know.

Love always,

The Future Jessica

Side-by-side photos of Jessica

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.

Originally published: February 10, 2016
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