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When Your Chronic Pain Is Like White Noise to Those Around You

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Years ago, when chronic pain ruled my world, the only place I felt heard was alone in the ocean. I loved the waves crashing over me, melting away the screams I could no longer manage to voice. I loved looking out into the endless ocean because it was the only place that gave me hope that life still existed: the ocean expanded so far, I felt that maybe no matter how bad of a place I was in I, too, could one day expand as the ocean did. I loved the feeling of being crushed by the rough waves and treading under water as I heard the faint noise of the water above. What most people feared about the ocean, was what I found as the only peace that still existed in my world of pain.

The Oxford dictionary defines white noise as noise containing many frequencies with equal intensities. Invisible illnesses such as chronic pain also contain many frequencies with somewhat equal intensities. Chronic pain does not come alone. Chronic pain is followed by many other white noises: fatigue, depression, anxiety, insomnia, hopelessness, and sadly sometimes suicidal thoughts and ideations.

Over time people forget one has chronic pain and their screams can literally only be heard as white noise. They may feel alone, hopeless, and many find places such as I did with the ocean as the only place he or she feels heard and/or understood. In 2005, the movie “White Noise” came out starring Michael Keaton. He plays a man who loses his wife, Anna, unexpectedly and becomes obsessed with finding her on “the other side.” He meets a man who works with the supernatural using a device called electronic voice phenomenon (EVP). He is a skeptic at first, but soon becomes a believer and makes it his life’s mission to speak to his wife through EVP or as others call it, white noise. I enjoy this genre of film and although this is not my favorite “ghost movie” it does correlate with how I view my struggle with chronic pain.

young girl ini life vest in ocean
Jessica’s daughter

Both the characters played by Michael Keaton and his deceased wife are trying desperately to speak to one another, but all they are able to hear is white noise. Trying to explain an invisible illness, such as chronic pain, comes out to those who do not have chronic pain as white noise.  The words are there but they are not comprehensible to the people we so desperately want to understand us and what we live through each day.

For over 10 years I knew no one with chronic pain. My life was filled with white noise drowned out by the voices of doctors, friends and family. No one could hear me and soon my screams could only be heard inside myself. It was not until I went to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and entered the Pain Rehab Center that I met others who also had chronic pain and my white noise slowly faded away. I did not need to explain what I felt because I was surrounded by others who felt the same exact way. I learned so much while at the Mayo Clinic and practice the tools I learned there daily to manage pain without medication or treatment. However, what I benefited from most was the commonality I found amongst my peers who also had chronic pain.

The worst part of an invisible illness is not being understood. All you need is one person, whether that be a friend or family member or in my case a total stranger I met in the middle of Minnesota, to truly understand how you feel. I hope my writings and stories help drown out your own personal white noise. You are definitely not alone.

Originally published: August 22, 2016
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