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What I Sometimes Wish People Knew About Chronic Pain

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It’s been years since chronic pain ruled my life. Doctor’s appointments, prescription refills, medical tests, procedures and fear about what was next all used to demand my full attention. But now I’m sometimes amazed to find I have made it through nearly an entire day without my chronic pain crossing my mind. It’s an achievement I would never have believed possible four years ago.

But even with the progress I have made, I sometimes wish people knew what a feat it was for me to even show up for work on some days. That they would understand what an accomplishment it was for me to get through an entire workday, then a workweek, even when I felt like taking those days just five minutes at a time.

See, I made a deal with myself years ago not to be the person who would always talk about pain. It had invaded my life and integrated itself with me, but it didn’t have to become my life. Making that realization made a huge difference in the quality of life I led and helped me change my mindset and accomplish things I never thought would be possible for me again.

This being said, there were times when I just wanted people to understand. There’s an old joke I once heard about a woman in labor. Her husband is offered the chance to be connected to a new machine that transfers a percentage of the pain of child labor to the father of the baby. He manages 10 percent, then 25 percent and then 50 percent without any pain. The doctors crank the machine up to 100 percent, and both man and wife go through a completely pain-free delivery. After the baby is born, the doctors are astonished at his tolerance because most men never make it over 20 percent. When they arrive home with their newborn, the mailman is dead on the front step.

Sometimes, I kind of wish this pain machine were real. For the doctors who don’t believe. For the people who don’t understand. For those who judge because they can’t see. And often, it isn’t something you could ever see. Instead, habits and behaviors are born from it.

For me, even without my pain being what it used to, I can still see the signs when I look for them. How I can’t sit still for more than a minute or two at most without shifting. Constant stretching. The stash of emergency medication I never leave home without just in case one of my killer migraines show up. The additional stash of OTC meds and pain patches I keep on hand to help pain from taking control. How I go to sleep every night with special pillows for neck, back and knee support, as well as a heating pad for my lower back and an ice pack on my neck and shoulders.

As you know, no such pain transfer machine exists, nor will it likely ever exist. We have our families, trusted doctors and friends who can see it, and that is usually enough. If you are struggling with pain, take pride in the accomplishments you make every day. No one else may realize what landmark you may have achieved — but you know. That is what matters.

Follow this journey on Alyce’s blog.

Originally published: December 24, 2015
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