Throughout the month of September, chronic pain sufferers can rest easier knowing their stories are being heard. In 2001, the American Chronic Pain Association along with Partners for Understanding Pain and more than 80 organizations united to make September Pain Awareness Month.
In honor of Pain Awareness Month, we’re sharing a story of inspiration in hopes of helping people with chronic pain understand they aren’t alone. Chronic pain is a nasty, ugly beast, but you can overcome it by finding a light in the shadows.
One thing people with chronic pain understand is it’s not just debilitating, it’s isolating. In addition to the constant physical pain, the mental anguish can be unbearable. Waking up day after day with no improvement has a way of gnawing at your soul. Even worse is when the pain gets so bad that you can’t sleep, because a “comfortable” position doesn’t exist.
When chronic pain first begins, you tend to think of it as you would an injury or a flu. Your brain says, “It won’t be like this forever. I’ll feel better soon.” After weeks of zero or minimal relief, the panic sets in and you begin to have that awful thought, “Am I ever going to feel better?” By now you may or may not have a diagnosis, but you’re probably seeing specialists and hoping you’ll get an answer that makes the pain go away. Sadly, for chronic pain sufferers answers don’t necessarily provide immediate relief, but they do provide insight.
I remember when I was diagnosed with Degenerative Disc Disease after herniating my L5. I was lucky because my specialist was one of the nicest doctors I had ever met. He was reviewing my MRI results, showing me exactly where my spine was failing me and where it would likely fail me in the future. I was following the conversation, but after I limped out of his office, the words “degenerative disc disease” just swirled around in my head. I couldn’t make sense of them.
A few days later, I started reading about DDD to better understand my diagnosis. The articles were informative, but the most meaningful things I read were the comments from other people who were struggling with chronic pain. For the first time, I wasn’t alone. Although I didn’t know these people personally, I knew we shared a common bond. And if they were surviving it, I could survive it too.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t an immediate transformation. Just because I was getting some mental relief that eased my mind, it was fleeting. The constant physical pain was still hijacking my life. My brain would go to unhappy places like, “Why me?” or “What did I ever do to deserve this?” Looking back, I was at war with my body. No matter how much I wanted to escape the pain, I couldn’t do it. There was no thinking, wishing or hoping my way out it.
Every chronic pain story is different, but there is commonality. We each have that one thing that gets us through the day. What’s funny is sometimes you don’t know what that thing is until it starts working. For me, the one thing was time. I’m not exactly sure who said it or why it stuck, but I began to understand that my chronic pain was a waiting game. When I felt overwhelmed, defeated or broken, my brain would simply say, “You just need time.” There was nothing special or heroic about that internal message, but it worked. And it still works today, four years later.
Do you have a story to share about the “one thing” in your life that helps you navigate your journey with chronic pain? Be heard! Let us know in the comments section.