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When I Learned to Give Voice to My Chronic Pain

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I have been fairly silent in regards to my chronic pain for most of my journey so far. My inner circle knows how difficult it is for me to constantly fight it. People beyond that? Well, they don’t know much. People know the basics: I’ve had three hip surgeries, I still have pain, but that’s generally it.

For many different reasons, many unrelated to pain, I keep most people in my life at arm’s length. I don’t often freely disclose much information about myself. I stick to hobbies and interests, not my past or feelings or anything vulnerable. I have avoided the “real” topics for years.

One reason why? Judgments. My chronic pain began at age 14. My chronic pain began at a time when I was constantly accused of making it up to get attention. If people didn’t accuse me of that, I was judged for being “too lazy” or apparently I “just didn’t want to have to run the mile in gym class.”

Believe me, I was not looking for attention — quite the opposite. All I wanted in high school was to just belong. I wanted to belong in a world that I increasingly felt at odds with. I would love to say that my high school peers weren’t yet the kind and compassionate people they’ve grown up to be. Unfortunately, my peers we’re far from the only ones making the accusations.

Dance teachers, dance peers, family members, family friends, people in waiting rooms and even doctors all said I just wanted attention. While each came with a new hurt, I think the most difficult was the amount of times doctors and specialists dismissed me for wasting their time. I was “wasting their time” because I was just another “attention seeking kid,” and they couldn’t find a reason I was in pain. The people who I was supposed to trust and offer me sound medical advice and support were the ones who caused, arguably, the most damage.

The emotional damage of years of being scoffed at, accused and judged for my very real injury and chronic pain has been far more excruciating to handle than the actual hip pain itself. This not be the case for everyone, but it is for me.

The element of chronic pain I struggle with the most is the emotional journey. Sure, the physical pain is difficult to manage, but it’s more defined. I’ve had almost 10 years to get used to that battle.

The emotional pain however? Working through the damage of four years without a diagnosis (plus five difficult years with a diagnosis) with judgments being thrown from all angles and sides seemed too daunting to even start. So I avoided it. Avoiding is my best — and least helpful — coping skill. Don’t believe me? Ask my therapist. She knows far too well how successful I can be at avoiding.

I have slowly started to wade through the emotional damage my hips have caused me. I work on radical acceptance of my chronic pain, my femoral acetabular impingement (FAI) and other injuries each day. I have slowly come to learn that silence only leads to assumptions by others. I have learned that sharing my pain is difficult, both for me and for others, and I have learned that that’s OK.

I have come to accept that not everyone I know or meet will 100 percent believe in my experience of my pain. Most importantly, I now see I cannot let the disbelief and lack of care in others dictate my actions. I’ve learned only I can validate my pain, take care of my body to the best of my ability despite the pain and do my best to educate others on my condition and chronic pain in general when applicable.

All that being said, I still have a long way to go. It’s important to remember that staying silent about the toll that chronic pain can take on you is not helpful — it’s detrimental. Speaking up may be difficult, but it’s necessary to give voice to the experience.

The emotional and physical journey of chronic pain is never-ending, a facet that has long been a hiccup in my acceptance of it. But, as I have written before, take it one day at a time and never regret sharing your story.

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Image via Thinkstock

Originally published: November 15, 2016
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