I live accompanied by chronic pain. Lots of people do. And for many of us, you would never know it by looking at us. This is me. This is what a person living with chronic pain can look like (see pic above :)
September is Pain Awareness Month in the U.S.
A number of years ago, I was a state pain advocate with the American Pain Foundation, which has since disbanded. As part of this advocacy work, I went to a small handful of pain conferences and had the honor of speaking at a couple of them, as well. A friend of mine and I led a pain support group for a short period of time and we also put together a holistic health fair. I’ve written articles and posts about my journey with chronic pain and illness. I’ve shared my story. This is all to say: I used to be active in this arena. But that was a long time ago.
Now, it’s rare for me to talk about the chronic pain I experience, because pain is no longer the main lens through which I view the world, as it used to be years ago. The only person that really knows what I go through is my husband. And not because I talk much about it, but because he’s the one that piles me into bed after a long day.
The 2018 campaign for Pain Awareness Month is #PainWarriorsUnite. While I truly mean no disrespect, I don’t personally resonate with this theme. In honor of Pain Awareness Month and also the approach of 100 Thousand Poets for Change, #100TPC, I wrote this earlier today:
I am not a warrior
when it comes to living with chronic pain and illness
When I was in the thick of it,
it wasn’t courage that kept me moving forward
It was fear
It was necessity
It was: Well, what the heck else is there to do?
I am not interested in going to battle
I have no wish to fight
And no, this doesn’t mean I’ve given up
There IS another way
A middle ground between going to war and giving up
And this is where I choose to reside
My sense from others I’ve come into contact with over the years, is that in spreading the message of being a warrior when it comes to living with pain and/or illness, whether mild or serious, creates the paradigm that those who feel hopeless and despairing, who don’t feel brave or courageous, who aren’t upholding the “good” fight, are somehow doing it wrong. I’m not so sure that sentiments involving fighting, going to battle or war, or being a champion or warrior are so helpful for our collective landscape and morale.
But I suppose that the idea that we can still be proactive and engaged without the necessity of fighting might be too much for many people to absorb and understand. After all, we’re a society built on duality and dualistic thinking. Well, we figure, if we’re not fighting against something, doesn’t that mean we’re being passive and ineffectual? This is a very common view when it comes to all sorts of matters, whether it’s in relation to: pain, illness, politics, social injustice, environmental advocacy, etc.
What I’m getting at is: words matter.
I don’t identify with being a pain warrior. I am not fighting or at battle with my nerve disease (CRPS). I am a person living with chronic pain. And one of the best things I do in regards to my condition – which greatly aides in reducing my pain response – is to continually cultivate a friendship with my illness and my body. For me, I associate fighting and being at war as the state I was in during the first 1-2 years after my diagnosis, when I was in the thick of the fray of pain. I fought against my body, my illness, my state of limitation, my new realty that I hated. I was at war against what was unfolding to be my new way of life.
I’m done fighting. I’m done battling. I’ve moved onto befriending – and my life and my relationship with my illness and pain, greatly benefit every day from that transformation.
Please understand, befriending doesn’t mean to give up. Befriending means to accept, embrace, and transform. When I was in fight mode, I was trapped and full of fear and anger. Befriending mode, however, is very liberating. And for me, this has made all the difference in how I respond to physical pain when it arises.
Pain is often invisible to the naked eye – whether it’s physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. Please don’t ever think you’ve got someone all figured out at first glance – or even second, third, or one millionth glance. This is me. This is what a person living with chronic pain can look like: