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Friday, February 4, 2011


People talk about how living takes courage. I happen to agree because life can be quite messy sometimes. There are ups and downs in every life and it can take courage and determination to get through those down times. For many people it is the up times that provide the energy needed to push through and survive the down times. But what happens when the up times are few and far between? What happens when life throws at you something that doesn't go away and thus makes every single day a study in courage just to make it through the day? That is what happens when someone has a chronic illness and/or chronic pain.

People seem to think that chronic pain just means the sufferer has pain more often than not, but that they do have times of no pain at all. This is not how it is. A chronic pain patient is in pain every minute of every day. The only variation comes in the area of intensity. Some days the pain is less intense than on others, or it can change many times in a single day. But a chronic pain patient does not have days without pain, or if they do it is extremely rare. We have pain all the time, which is why it is called "chronic".

It takes a great deal of courage to get out of bed every day when you know that the physical act of getting out of bed will hurt. You then have to find courage to do whatever needs to be done during your day. Everyday tasks seem insurmountable and are both physically and emotionally draining. Doing the dishes can land you in bed for anywhere from a couple hours to the rest of the day. Laundry results in feeling as if you just ran a major marathon. Cooking dinner at the end of the day can often feel like it is just too much. It takes a great deal of courage to face these challenges every day and do what needs done knowing full well how much it will hurt to do them.

People insist on believing that someone who has chronic pain is somehow weaker than they are if they complain of pain. Some believe that we are making it up or trying to play it up for sympathy. The truth is completely different.

Do chronic pain patients lie about their pain levels? yes we do, but we don't play it up, we play it down. We are acutely aware of how our loved ones react to our pain and it hurts us to know they feel helpless, so we lie and tell them we are not hurting as badly as we really are. We are very aware of how other people feel about chronic pain and the use of pain medication thanks to the propaganda the government spills. As a result we are forced to lie to others, to hide the reality of our pain so we don't have to deal with others' ignorance more often than absolutely necessary.

Do chronic pain patients have a lower pain tolerance than other people? No. We tend to have a high tolerance to pain, we have no choice but to learn to tolerate pain because there is no other option.

We have to accept that our bodies have betrayed us, that life as we knew it is now gone, and that the rest of our lives will include pain all the time. These are major changes and affect every aspect of our lives. We have to find different ways of doing things that others take for granted. We have to think about what we want or need to do and figure out a way to get it done that will cause the least amount of increase in pain. We can't take anything for granted because everything is affected. It is mentally exhausting to be constantly having to find new ways of doing things, constantly weighing the consequences of even simple activities, and to know that this will not go away.

To make it worse, we then have to deal with other people's ignorance and biases about chronic illness, chronic pain, and medications. People who think they know the answers, people who believe we're lying, faking or somehow making it up. When we have to waste our mental and emotional energies dealing with insensitive people, it depletes our reserves for dealing with our daily lives and makes everything more difficult.

If we were weak, soft, or lazy we could not deal with our lives. We would give up. Instead we fight on, day in and day out, we keep going and doing the best we can. This takes a great deal of courage, fortitude and strength.

You want to see what a courageous person looks like? If you are a person with chronic pain or chronic illness, look in the mirror. The face you see is the face of a courageous person. For everyone else, look at someone who lives with a chronic illness or pain and you will see the face of courage. We are the people who have to chose, millions of times a day, to keep fighting, to keep going and not give in even when we want to. We are the fighters.

We fight just to survive each day.

Every day.

We fight!