Yesterday, in the elevator on my way to my office, there were two girls in their early 20s discussing a male employee in their office who lives with chronic pain. One of the girls made a comment saying that there was no way he could possibly live with so much pain, hold a job, and have a normal life. She noted he had to be lying about the extent of his pain to get sympathy. The second girl agreed that it is way not possible to live with chronic pain unless he was addicted to pain medication. Generally, this was a conversation that I would have intervened in and corrected. However, I was dealing with my own pain levels to say anything.
What I felt was frustration at the ignorance of people. How is possible not to understand the significance of chronic pain when over 40 million Americans are affected by some form of arthritis and have chronic pain that limits their daily activities. Nearly 40% of Americans suffer pain on a daily basis. Therefore, that means that 80 million people in this country live with pain.
Chronic pain is everywhere but it is personal because every person is affected differently. Think about all the conditions that cause chronic pain: arthritis, migraines, carpal tunnel, nerve pain, back pain, injuries, and many more and this makes it hard for me to see that our society is still ignorant about the affects of chronic pain on people just like them. Chronic pain has no bias. It affects adults and it affects children. It does not care about race, age, or ethnicity.
Sadly, there are no medical tests to prove how much pain a person is in. Doctors look at person’s history and the type of condition or conditions that a person has. In addition, so many pain sufferers deal with family, friends, coworkers and even doctors who do not understand the extent of a person’s pain and treat the sufferer as a hypochondriac, a drug addict, or simply insist that the pain is in a person’s head.
Since my RA diagnosis, there has not been one joint in my body that have been spared from inflammation and pain. My muscles ache on an almost daily basis from my fibromyalgia and I accept that this is now my life. I live and work with chronic pain on a daily basis. I take Advil and use hot/cold compresses when my pain levels are high. I go into work everyday despite the pain, take care of my children, continue to work on my master’s degree, and continue to advocate despite my levels of pain. I don’t complain about my pain unless it is extreme or I am to a point of frustration. I am not a hypochondriac and I am not a drug addict. I am a wife, a mother, a sister, an aunt, a friend, and an employee and I am all of these things despite chronic pain.
Pain takes the joy out of life and it makes getting through each day hard. People who live with chronic pain have a quality of life that is altered. Do I think that the employee that the two girls were discussing is a hypochondriac or a drug addict? Of course, I don’t. Do I think he exaggerates his pain? I most definitely do not because I don’t know what it is like to live in his shoes because, again, pain is personal. What I do believe is that our society is ignorant when it comes to chronic pain and the conditions associated with it. If you were to walk past me in the grocery store, you wouldn’t see chronic pain affects my life on a daily basis because my pain is invisible to you. At the same token, don’t simply push my pain aside unless you have walked five minutes in my shoes or in the shoes of anyone who says that they are in pain.