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The Class That Gave Me Hope for a Future Where Chronic Pain Is Validated

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When I signed up for the module to study pain, body and mind in my psychology course, I admit I was worried and ready for an argument. I was ready to be told what pain was and how it was experienced. I thought I would be told rather than heard and I was ready to stand up and fight for what I believe in to a professional who studies pain and how it happens and how it’s processed in the mind and body.

I myself have chronic pain with endometriosis and a current acute-ish, chronic-ish unknown pain (it’s a long story, and not a good one) and am great friends with a woman who struggles with fibromyalgia. Needless to say, I know pain very well. So there I was, all revved up and ready to go when the strangest thing happened.

He listened. He asked how we experience or think of pain and what we think it is. I told him about my own experiences and instead of shutting me down, he agreed. This lecturer knew we knew the basics of pain in the mind as third-year students, and so allowed us to speak freely our own opinions. He not only showed he understood with his words, but he took it even further.

He went on to explain to the class how chronic pain leads to such misunderstanding from the world. He taught the seminar group about how professionals treat those with chronic pain; he explained and educated those who otherwise might not know how we feel and experience pain. He went into detail about how doctors don’t always know how to treat individuals with chronic pain and so they wind up taking it out on the patients and never treat them. He explained how it can affect our mental health, how it can lead us to become depressed or non-functional. He also had a letter sent to him by someone with fibro as part of the lesson plan, and said individuals with fibro will be coming to speak to us to help us understand what it is to feel pain.

I realized in that lecture, while I was feeling so amazing, it was only small things that had been done to make me feel that way. All that had happened was I had shared how I felt and not been questioned. Not had someone explain away my pain or my experience. Someone, a professional, listened and validated me. He then shared that with a group of people who can now go into their studies, their own influences on science with this mindset. It gave me insight to the fact that there are professionals out there dedicating their entire careers to validating our pain, to trying to show doctors we exist and we aren’t lying or exaggerating.

After so long of having my pain be mistreated, of having doctors neglect and mistreat those I love, and those who I barely know yet share a sisterhood with, it felt like I could breathe again. In that lecture I felt entirely safe and understood. I felt hope for the future that one day, a girl with endo, fibro, interstitial cystitis, MS or any other chronically painful condition will be able to walk into a doctor’s office and have them say, “I believe you. You must be in so much pain. Let’s get an action plan in place to help you cope and get the best out of life.” Yesterday I thought that day would never come, but today I have hope it’s coming.

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Thinkstock photo via Jacob Ammentorp Lund.

Originally published: October 18, 2017
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