Explaining Pain in its Own Voice

By Jason Menard

I hurt.

Normally, I don’t talk about it. And I pride myself on the fact that, for the most part, people don’t know about my situation. But recently I’ve had the opportunity to share parts of my story with three people. It seemed to help, so I thought I’d put it down on paper — virtually.

When it comes to pain management, I have no advice to give. I only have my experience to share and to let people know that what they’re feeling is normal.

Roughly 10 years ago, we were driving home when someone decided that her need to get somewhere five seconds faster was more important than safety. In that moment, when we were hit head-on in an accident described by the police as “we didn’t think we’d find any survivors,” our lives changed forever.

For the better part of a decade — and I use the term ‘better’ very, very loosely — I’ve spent every day dealing with pain on a daily basis. I’ve been able to work, but it can be a challenge.

Life continues, but it’s been changed. The one thing living with pain teaches you is that no one truly understands.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • It doesn’t get better; it just gets more tolerable: With soft-tissue injuries, nerve damage, and chronic pain, it doesn’t get better. You just learn how to adapt, tolerate, and deal with the pain. You can appear to be ‘fine,’ but you never are;

  • People get tired of pain: That goes for both those living with pain and those interacting with those people. We get tired of trying to find accommodations for our conditions and people get tired of accommodating those limitations. It’s not a negative, it just is;

  • We get reclusive: Those long nights out that we used to enjoy? They’re much tougher to deal with now. Knowing we have a limited time frame for our threshold of pain, we tend to restrict the amount of times we go out. We don’t want to be the focus of the party for a negative reason. We don’t want people to notice our discomfort and we don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable when they’re trying to enjoy themselves. So, sometimes, it’s just better to stay home and make do; and

  • People want forget: Again, that goes for both those living with pain and those interacting with them. As we get better at dealing with pain, it gets easier for people to forget you’re suffering. We know that our situation can be frustrating to you — trust us, we’re a hundred times more frustrated. Much of the time, we don’t want to talk about it. We deal with it every day, so if we’re out with you, chances are we’re thrilled to have an opportunity to talk about non-pain-related things.

We don’t want to hear “it’ll get better.” Many times people say that because it’s what they think they’d want to hear. We know you only have the best intentions in mind, but sometimes even the best intentions can be demoralizing. Comments like, “You’re still hurting?” or “Maybe you should try X, Y, Z,” or “Positive thinking brings positive results…” can add to the burden.

When you’re living with pain, you just want to know it’s OK to feel like crap. You want to be able to be frustrated, angry, and disillusioned. Some days, we just want to crash in our beds after a long day of work, taking care of a family, and dealing with life. There’s nothing wrong with that.

For many of us, it won’t get better. We just get better at tolerating pain.

What’s better about not being able to do certain activities with you kids because of pain? What’s better about not being able to take certain trips, because you know the pain will get intolerable? What’s better about feeling like a burden?

We need to have those moments to deal with our pain. Having to put on a brave face for us and for you can be an added burden. We don’t want pity and we don’t want to be treated differently. We just want to live our lives.

That constant pain lets us appreciate those moments of joy, love, and happiness. They make every moment we have with our families all the more special. And it’s a true joy when those moments of laughter can be heard over the overwhelming silence of pain. It’s a wonderful life lesson to learn, but it’d be great if that lesson could have been imparted in another way.

Those of us living with pain don’t let it control us. I’ve spent a decade making damn sure that I never use it as an excuse publicly. I also have worked diligently to keep my condition under wraps because I don’t want to be seen as “overcoming” something or living “in spite” of pain.

Constant pain is just part of who we are. For those of us with chronic pain, while it may not get better, it doesn’t mean life can’t be pretty amazing. And once you learn to tolerate the bad, you can appreciate all the good life has to offer.

It just takes time. It just takes patience. And it just takes understanding.

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