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What It’s Like When Someone You Love Is Hurting From Chronic Pain

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Editor's Note

This story has been published with permission from the author’s daughter.

I blog both from the perspective as someone who deals with mental and physical struggles personally, and as someone who has several loved ones who also deal with these issues. Right now, the latter is tearing me up inside.

My daughter has several health issues — mental and physical. As anyone who deals with these issues knows, the mental can make the physical worse, and vice versa. For example, an anxiety disorder can cause physical pain. If you already have a condition that causes pain, like fibromyalgia, add anxiety to the mix and it’s a lot to deal with.

Last semester, my daughter was in college and was hoping to do something really special — studying abroad, which has been one of her big dreams for a very long time. However, that semester was truly horrible for her.

Right before the semester started, she hurt her back badly — so badly we thought for a while that she would need surgery. Instead she “just” needed physical therapy two to three times a week by a specialist in this type of injury, and the only one in our area was over 30 minutes each way from our home.

Due to the fibromyalgia and dysautonomia that she struggles with, mornings are very hard for her in the best of circumstances. Given her extreme back pain on top of it and having to take time for physical therapy … let’s just say she started off already behind in her classes this year, missing many classes and being in so much pain she couldn’t concentrate on schoolwork.

As soon as she started getting behind, the stress started mounting. The added pressure of getting ready for the study abroad experience she has hoped for years she would be able to do added stress, which increased the pain and symptoms of her health issues. Then the pain increased her stress. You can see where this is going…

She has stumbled along, fighting with everything in her, to even barely make it through this semester. Even with all of the work she has done, her grades nearing the end of the semester were pitiful to her. She’s an A/B student, and we knew it was entirely possible she would fail, even though she’s worked her tail off.  (She didn’t but she barely squeaked by on the few classes she had to go on and finish and she took incompletes on the rest.)


Due to miscommunication, not caring, or just not understanding, her professors this semester have added to the struggle by not following her accommodations that were already set in place. Her medications aren’t the right ones, or aren’t enough, but she’s been struggling so much to deal with school that she hasn’t been able to focus on getting those corrected.

I have been stressed and hurting along with her. It’s been a real roller-coaster ride — where we thought she would get to go and then something would happen that would put a kink in the works. Then that would work out and we could get excited only to have another kink. I can’t tell you  how many times this has happened this semester concerning this experience.

So on a Friday morning near the end of that semester, she finally committed to going no matter what. I got in high gear and finally started on all of the many details that we have been planning but were waiting for a final confirmation before we actually started doing.

Then that afternoon everything changed.

I don’t want to go into detail on how it happened but Friday afternoon she realized that even though she can go, it just might not be the best thing for her to go. Because I know how much she’s wanted to go, I know I had pushed her, probably more than I should have. I thought that if she could just make it there, everything would somehow be OK.

With this realization, I felt like my heart was being torn out (because it’s all about me, right?)  Really, I just hurt so much for her, knowing that this dream could come to an end because of these stupid diseases that we just can’t get a handle on. Co-dependent?  Of course, I am. I’m a momma.  When she hurts, I hurt. Maybe one day I’ll get healthy and get boundaries and be able to handle it better when she hurts. But at that moment I was a basket-case.

That entire weekend I was a mess. I was already in a low cycle with my bipolar disorder, and I had an ongoing cough I couldn’t seem to get rid of, which exhausted me on top of my regular always-tired feeling. So I especially wasn’t in a place where I could separate myself from her pain that weekend.  I know that feeling her pain isn’t helpful because I couldn’t take it away… she was hurting too. And I know there was nothing I could do about it.

Sometimes I get so bitter about the fact that my little girl can’t just be a “regular” college kid. She has to put so much energy into just getting through life, she has nothing left for fun. But even with all that, she gets lumped into a group with the college kids who just party and don’t care about class by some professors who think she doesn’t show up because she is lazy or hungover… I know that’s at least a partial factor on why her professors didn’t cut her more slack.

Anyway, we finally gave up. She didn’t make the final decision for almost another week, but she finally decided to ask for incompletes this semester because trying to get everything done before finals was stressing her out so much that we were seriously worried about her possibly having a complete breakdown. Then she also decided to take the next semester off from college completely, to get her health straightened out.

With this plan, the hope is that she will go back to her current college this fall and will be able to attempt again to do the study abroad experience the next spring. This will put her a year behind on graduating from college, but she will still get to fulfill her dream.

During that time, I wished so much that I could just “fix it” and make it all go away. In the meantime, even though I fail more than I succeed, I’m going to keep trying to be supportive of both her health needs and her dreams… and try my best not to let the supporting her dreams get in the way of her health.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

This story originally appeared on Spotlight on Stigma.

Originally published: February 5, 2020
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