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When My Chronic Pain Makes It Hard for Others to Talk About Their Pain

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Living with chronic pain is like walking on a tightrope. If your focus and balance shifts even slightly, it can mean a pretty big fall. For most of us who’ve been on the ride for quite some time, it can feel like the net gets smaller and smaller. Finding the strength and nerve to get up and try to do it all over again can take a long time. Sometimes, I must take my eyes off my path for a moment to see how my medical condition has affected the people I love. Then it hit me — they’re on a tightrope too.

My husband has some serious back issues. He’s an active medical professional now, but years ago when we were fresh out of college, he was working with his dad and was injured pretty badly. Being the guy he is, he sucked it up for years before finally getting imaging that would show just how bad his injuries were. Being on his feet for 13 hours a shift, carrying heavy equipment, and bending over hospital beds all day does exactly what you think it would do. When he gets home, I know he must be hurting. He can barely walk, and yet, he doesn’t complain. On the off-hand chance he does say something, it’s usually prefaced by “I know I can’t really talk but…”

It breaks my heart.

I don’t own pain. Sure, living with reflex sympathetic dystrophy/complex regional pain syndrome (RSD/CRPS) is living hell. Yes, I cannot remember a day in recent memory when I haven’t been in horrendous, widespread pain. However, just because I am living in pain doesn’t mean that others don’t also live in pain. Unfortunately, there seems to be plenty of that to go around.

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” While I’ve used that quote many times in my life to help stay focused on my own tightrope, I can’t help but find a deeper meaning while watching my husband struggle to talk about his pain with me.  In this case, comparison can also be robbing him of his ability to openly discuss how his pain affects him, an openness which has been a big part of my coping mechanisms since receiving my diagnosis in 2007. Sometimes, you just need to say, “this hurts, I’m in a pain, and I need to check out for a moment so I can care for myself.” Think of how much harder that has to be when the person you love is diagnosed with one of the most painful chronic medical conditions out there? I can imagine it may become easy to say, “Well, it’s probably not close to what you’re feeling,” but truth be told — why does it matter? If it hurts you, then it matters.

I would be lying to myself, and to you if I said sometimes it’s hard not to roll your eyes at someone who has a minor issue and makes it out to be absolutely life-altering. Still, I certainly can’t judge what types and what levels of pain are “legitimate.” That’s a tightrope too, and I am learning in my own journey to respect that.

So, the next time you’re talking to your friend who lives with chronic pain, do your best to remember President Roosevelt and his thoughts on comparisons. You don’t have to justify your pain or your problems. If they are affecting you in any way, then it’s OK to be open and honest about them – they matter! There’s no reason to feel as if your issues aren’t important enough to discuss with your friends or loved ones because you assume your issue may feel like less in comparison. In fact, people living with chronic pain may even be some of the best folks to discuss your pain with. Many of us have found some effective coping mechanisms, resources or medical professionals who can help. Since many of us have also been pushed aside in various facets of our lives, we can empathize and just listen.

You don’t have to go through your pain alone – and either do we.

Our tightropes may be different lengths, or maybe even different heights, but they’re all difficult. I know I am dedicating a goal this year to make sure I look around a bit more often to help be the net for my husband and for others.

Here’s to more nets and less falls in 2018 and beyond.

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Getty Images photo via kieferpix

Originally published: January 25, 2018
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