There are so many chronic pain conditions out there that I can’t even name half of them.
From MS to Lupus, cancer, chronic migraine, fibromyalgia, arthritis, CPRS, EDS, neuropathy, trigeminal neuralgia, lung diseases, ankylosing spondylitis, Lyme disease, ulcerative colitis, IBS, pelvic pain syndromes, and the list goes on.
There are so many diseases, rare and common, that cause daily pain and limit your ability to sustain a job, keep up with school, socialize, and do the things you love.
Socializing can be incredibly hard when you have a chronic pain problem because your healthy family and friends don’t understand just how much it affects your life.
This post is written in solidarity of those who live with chronic pain and hopefully it will also give healthy people a little glimpse into the world of chronic illness.
Living with a chronic pain condition in hard, and here are 5 reasons why…
1. There’s no end date when it comes to chronic pain
Physical pain aside, it is hard to mentally and emotionally accept that you may be in pain for the rest of your life.
With chronic pain, you don’t have the luxury of knowing that your pain has an expiration date.
When you have a healthy person gets the flu, it may suck, but they know that once their flu is over they’ll feel much better and they’ll be able to resume their life.
A broken bone, a head cold, a sprained ankle, or a bout of food poisoning has an end point in sight, and if you just stick it out long enough then you know the pain and discomfort will cease.
With chronic pain, it is possible that you will be in pain every day until the day you die. It sounds depressing, but it is just the truth and it is a hard pill to swallow.
Because of this reality, it should be easy to see why chronic pain suffers often deal with anxiety, depression, and feelings of hopelessness about their future.
2. Chronic pain doesn’t come with a trophy
Unlike the painful experiences of childbirth, running a marathon, or getting a tattoo, chronic pain doesn’t come with any kind of reward.
Women can endure excruciating physical pain while giving birth because they know that the end result is a beautiful new life.
When you experience a hangover it feels awful, but you understand that the hangover is simply nature’s punishment for your wild night out. You did this to yourself and it was (probably) worth it.
Living with cronic pain is like getting the hangover with out any of the fun night before.
When you work yourself to the bone to accomplish a project or win at an athletic event, you have a reward for your accomplishments. You get a medal for succeeding, or you build your self-esteem, or you get something of value out of the experience.
But unlike these cases of acute pain where there is something to be accomplished, there is no trophy waiting at the finish line of your migraine.
One of the hardest things about chronic pain is the accepting that your suffering has no greater purpose.
Your pain doesn’t benefiting you or anybody else. You survive it every day and have nothing to show for it (except maybe a few dozen medical bills).
In a cruel twist of fate it turns out that chronic pain does not trigger the release of endorphins in the way that acute pain does.
A lot of athletes experience a “runners high” during a long jog and many people feel a rush of euphoria during a long tattooing session—these endorphins are released by your body during times of pain in order to help you cope with it.
But when you are battling intense pain every day, the endorphins tend to go bye-bye and you’re stuck bearing it all without the help of your body’s natural painkillers.
3. Chronic pain fuels isolation
When you break your arm, people running to sign your cast, but when you live with daily pain you often find yourself alone because others want to help you but they don’t know how. They feel helpless and uneasy around you.
Likewise, you don’t want to be around them because you are in pain and you just want to lie down in a dark room.
Even worse is that chronic pain and fatigue go hand in hand. If you want to experience true exhaustion, just try being in pain 24/7 and you’ll get there very quickly.
The presence of physical pain commands your body systems to stand on high alert, because pain usually indicates an immediate threat to be warded off.
The problem is, when you’re in pain on a regular basis then your body’s “high alert system” gets burnt out and you feel tired all the time.
Chronic pain makes you feel isolated because you can’t keep up with your friends and family, and living in a controlled environment (aka. the dark hole known as your bedroom) seems a lot safer than venturing out into the real world.
4. Chronic pain doesn’t respond to traditional treatments
There is usually no “easy answer” for chronic pain conditions. If there were, nobody would be in chronic pain.
Unlike a sprained ankle, there often isn’t an effective mainstream treatment for chronic pain because the origin of the pain is unknown. Sometimes they do known what is causing the pain but they just can’t fix it.
Neuropathy is a classic example.
Thanks to conditions like type 2 diabetes, nerve pain is a pretty common condition these days and doctors hear about it all the time.
The trouble is that nerve pain is difficult to treat and the cause varies from patient to patient.
The doctor may put you on gabapentin but you might gain 40 pounds and feel like dirt. Then they might have you try out a muscle relaxant, but you might act like a zombie all day. Then they might do a trial of opioids pain meds, but you might get hooked.
From a healthy, outside perspective it may be easy to say “just get on pain medications,” or “just exercise more,” or “just take it easy and rest more often,” but it’s never that simple.
Medications can have horrible side effects and they are expensive. Also, some people (like yours truly) have genetic mutations that don’t allow their body to process drugs correctly.
Exercising when you’re in pain is sometimes impossible and resting dosn’t make the pain go away most of the time.
Most chronic pain sufferers have tried everything.
They’ve tried pharmaceuticals, natural supplements, over the counter meds, marijuana products, chiropractic care, massage, acupuncture, mediation, biofeedback, lotions, potions, and even magical elixirs made from eye of newt with a dash of dragon’s blood.
Oh wait…that last one is not real.
But if it was, I guarantee you that the Spoonie community would have tried it already.
5. People Judge You because of your Chronic Pain
Healthy people don’t get it, plain and simple.
This is not a shot at them, however, because it isn’t their fault that they don’t get it. Some things cannot be truly understood until you have experienced them for yourself, and chronic illness and pain is are some of those things.
Because of this, a Spoonie either has to explain to everyone in their life that they have a condition or they have to deal with the silent judgement of others.
You don’t want to broadcast the intimate details of your life to everyone you work and socialize with because it feels like “oversharing” and it can be downright awkward for everyone involved.
But if you don’t let everyone in on the scoop, then people start resenting you…
…when you can’t keep up with the rest of your tour group the tour guide just assumes that you’re lazy.
…when you have to park in the disabled parking spot but you look perfectly fine on the outside, people assume that you’re an entitled jerk.
…when you ask for another refill of your pain medications, your doctor starts to suspect that you’re a drug seeker or an addict.
…you’re friends don’t understand why you can’t just “power through” a three hour trip to the mall and they think you’re just being high maintenance.
…when you can’t have sex with your partner because of pain, they roll their eyes and storm off. They think you’re holding out on them for selfish reasons.
Congratulations, you’ve just survived an extremely depressing blog post. I don’t write this stuff out of self-pity, however, and I certainly am not fishing for sympathy from random strangers on the internet.
The purpose of pieces like these is to let other chronic pain suffers know that they are not invisible and they are not alone. I see you and I understand what you’re going through, to some extent.
Posts like these are also created to help educate the healthy ones out there about the daily struggle that their Spoonie loved ones face every day.
So, be kind, hug often, and treat everyone you meet with compassion.
Until next time,
Em the Silver Spoonie