Chronic pain has become an epidemic across the globe: it’s estimated that 1.5 billion people suffer from immense and ongoing pain, every day.
So why is it, then, that we don’t talk about it?
Chronic pain can’t be seen. You can’t show someone like you could a broken arm in a plaster cast. We can’t switch bodies for even a few moments to show others what you’re going through. People don’t believe you. Even doctors can palm you off onto strong medications without further investigation because there are so many causes of chronic pain and very few cures.
The worst thing about chronic pain isn't actually being in pain all of the time. It’s how it affects your social life, and your ability to live independently While it’s difficult for anybody with pain, it feels like the younger you are, the more likely you are to be labeled ‘lazy,' ‘a hypochondriac,' or as someone who exaggerates the way they feel.
People who live with chronic pain (like me, who’s had fibromyalgia since the age of 17) learn not to talk about it. They’ve discovered that other people don’t usually know how to react if they’re told “Sorry, can we take the lift instead today? I’m having an off day”. So, it’s easier to just shut up.
For those with chronic pain, our friends are our support network. They keep us going. But there are some things that even those closest to us don’t know how we feel every day, and there are other friends who have drifted away because they’re scared of saying or doing something wrong.
To our friends: we want to tell you a few things about living with chronic pain.
1) We didn’t know it would change our lives so much
Whether it’s arthritis, Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, or anything else: when that diagnosis came, we were block-headed about it. We didn’t think it would affect us. Some didn’t believe that we'd have to change our lives in order to remain independent. Or think we’d need supervision in the kitchen because knives are dangerous in our weak hands, and we didn’t think we’d have to ask our flatmates to help us out of the bathtub because we were too weak to do it ourselves.
2) We resent you for being healthy
Know that we love you, but we are jealous. Even those of us who have lived with chronic pain for most of our lives, and are used to living differently to most people: we’re still subject to that sudden pang of envy. When we see you with your children and know we can’t have them, because it would mean stopping our roster of pain meds, and because we couldn’t run around after them as they grew up, and we’re jealous of you. Or we see you go on long weekend mountain hikes, sharing your amazing pictures on Instagram, and we hate that all we did was manage to climb the stairs today.
3) We live vicariously through you
You get to have all of these adventures. Sometimes, we feel resentment and jealousy sometimes, sure, but don’t stop telling us about them. Often we surf the web and read books all day long, but there’s nothing like learning about the world through someone who has been there, done that, and quite literally got the perfect selfie pictures to prove it. Keep talking to us. We love it.
4) We want to say yes whenever we say no
Chronic pain makes going out really difficult. We have to think about how far we’ll have to walk, whether there’ll be somewhere to sit down, if the place will be crowded which means getting jostled by people, or if we can make an early getaway if we go downhill through the event. So often, we say no to big nights out, social gatherings, or even family BBQs. But we really, really, want to say yes.
5) We feel like a burden to you with our pain
You always have to come over to see us, instead of the other way around, because driving is too challenging and public transport too awkward. If you look healthy on the outside, you can’t sit in the disabled seat without getting stares and glares. You’re always having to adapt plans so that we can come along, which usually means going home much earlier in the night than you’d like, or traveling somewhere local, so we don’t have to take an airplane to go on holiday. This is what you do for us, and we’re forever grateful – but that doesn’t mean we don’t feel guilty, too.
6) We’d never wish to trade places with you
OK, maybe we would, for a split second. But the pain we have, on a daily basis, is not something we’d wish on the harshest dictators in the world, let alone our friends. Whenever you get slightly ill, have an accident and injure yourself, we’re the first ones to worry that it’s going to turn into something chronic, incurable, and life-changing. We don’t want you to have our lives.
We don’t talk about our pain because it’s not a fun subject. It’s still there, though, so when you ask how we are, please listen when we tell you honestly that we’re having a bad day. It’s really all you need to do to help us feel
Bio:Annie Grace is a long-time fibromyalgia and arthritis patient, first diagnosed at the age of 17 after years of being told it was growing pains. She's a content marketer on the 9-5, a freelance copywriter on the other 9-5, and somehow squeezes in a little bit of fiction work, too. She loves anything with words, but her Kindle will never entirely replace the feeling of a good, solid paperback to go with her artisan she-knows-she-is-snobby-about-it coffee.
You can find more about her with these links:
Her website/blog is annekewrites.com