“Me, too!” We can all find ways to join with others who share the significant abuse, pain, loneliness, poverty…..whatever has touched us with enough significance to change the way we conduct our lives. Our thoughts. Our treatment of others. Our understanding of our own worthiness, or the lack thereof. The reality of our life that will either make us, or break us, through no fault of our own. For over 100 million people in America, that reality is ongoing. For some it has just begun, for others it has been the story of a lifetime of pain, and of trying to cope. These are the chronic pain patients, and I am here to say, “Me, too.”
Elsewhere on this website I have talked about the devastating pain, and the 45-plus years I have lived with it. About how I could not take pain medications other than NSAIDs, which ultimately caused more problems to be dealt with. About how almost 4 years ago I went to a Pain Management physician, who made it possible for me to return from the nights spent crying in pain and helplessness, wishing for death, to a productive life once again. Yes, along with many who have committed suicide or considered it since the War on Physicians and Pain Patients, I can say “Me, too.” Although I cannot consider suicide (and this is no credit to me, it is just a fact), I have certainly prayed for death to take me out of the intolerable situation. As I said, I have written about this before. It’s all still on line, if you need to read it.
But that is not why I write now. There is a deeper reality to being a chronic pain patient in America, one that is emotional and psychological, and causes a pain of the inner being that is every bit as devastating as a pain level of 10 on a scale of 1 to 10. It is why the title of this piece is “Just Another Chronic Pain Patient.”
To our government, to many insurance companies, to law enforcement and even to some medical associations and physicians, nurses and practitioners, and even to our own employers, our families, our churches and our friends, we do not exist. When we must leave the house, we dress as well as possible, use makeup, and try to appear as though nothing is wrong with us because no one wants to hear or be reminded about our constant struggle. It isn’t a welcome contribution to our daily interactions. Worse, we often hear:
It’s all in your head. See a therapist, not a doctor.
You would feel better if you would just get out and do more; exercise more; volunteer more.
Quit feeling sorry for yourself and look around you. You are better off than most people.
If it wasn’t for you and your kind, we would not have this opioid crisis. It all began with you drug seekers.
And these are only a few of the arrows that pierce our very souls. Like when we are not even mentioned in discussions of how pain medication should be used. It is all about the people with substance abuse problems, or acute, short-term pain. These are considered legitimate issues, worthy of concern and assistance. And they certainly are all of that, but Chronic pain does not exist, is not even worthy of notice.
Nothing is said about the courage and strength of the single mom with children to support, who bravely goes to work every day looking her best, with a big smile on her face, hiding the pain that racks her body to the point that she cannot eat properly, or sleep well at night. And she won’t talk about it, because she knows she could lose her job, or her children, or the medications a concerned and knowledgeable physician gives her so that she can go to work and care for her children. She lives with the fear, as well as the pain. Every day.
Speaking of every day, other patients are condemned because they may have periods of hours or even days of less pain, when they can get a lot done, and enjoy some time free of the pain. Those times come at a high price: when they can no longer operate at that level of freedom, they are under suspicion of malingering. “S/he only hurts when it suits her/him. They just want attention/pills/time off from work..” Whatever character flaw the speaker is convinced the pain patient suffers from becomes a reality for the speaker, and the consequences of their words become, by extension, a reality for the pain patient and the source of increased feelings of worthlessness, even evil. Oh, the word evil is not spoken. But add up all the negativity, the character flaws identified by those who have little compassion to spare for the pain patient, and to the pain patient, it feels as though others see you as something evil, at worst. Maybe only as something unworthy of compassion and a helping hand, at best.
Is it any wonder that some of us have not been able to continue living in the face of having medications taken from us, on top of the horrible feelings engendered by knowing what society thinks of us? Is it any wonder that not many have been able to speak out and say “Me, too?”
No, I am not asking for credit for doing this. I am just praying that if you know a chronic pain patient that you will give a second thought about the stereotypical comments that come to mind. I don’t presume to say that all patients feel the same way that I feel, or to the same degree. But the same thing is true about chronic pain. Our lives are different, and we cope the best we can with the degree of pain and rejection that we suffer. To that, we can all say “Me, too.”
In truth, there is no such thing as “Just another chronic pain patient.”