By Theresa Wells
You never know how something you share will resonate with others. Over the last few years of writing my blog and this column I have often been surprised at the issues that touch people or the ones that encourage people to reach out to me to share their own stories. I have never been more surprised, though, than when a few weeks ago I wrote a column about chronic pain and was deluged with emails, texts, phone calls and messages from people in our community who endure chronic pain.
The causes of the pain are myriad – injuries from automotive collisions or falls from ladders, chronic diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, hereditary conditions, the aftermath of cancer which even after being beaten left the survivor in pain – but the stories were almost always the same. Every single person who contacted me expressed their struggle to deal with a monster that has no face but is very real all the same.
The pain that inspired me to write that column originated in my eye and my battle with a rare spontaneous corneal perforation. It was a frightening experience simply because the specialists had no idea if the pain would lessen or if it would ever disappear. It was terrifying to think that I may always feel as if I had a red-hot poker stabbing me in the left eye. But I have been lucky, as in my case the pain has diminished to a dull throb and ache, not present all the time but often enough to remind me that my eye, while better, is not healed.
Others are not so fortunate. There are others who deal with chronic, unrelenting pain which they struggle to control with medication, meditation and a variety of pain coping techniques. The pain is often accompanied by anxiety, depression and mood swings – and chronic pain has been linked to an increased risk of suicide.
Many of those who contacted me shared that at some point in their journey with pain they have felt depressed, anxious or even suicidal. Reading their stories was heartbreaking, and the pain in my eye was quickly matched by a pain in my heart as I realized how each of these individuals suffered and how isolating pain can be. Some told me tales of relationships ending because of their pain, and how pain could push out everyone and everything in your life, leaving you alone and suffering.
After reading these stories I realized how little we really understand pain. We understand transient pain, the kind we experience with toothaches and childbirth, but the concept of living with pain on a daily basis eludes us until we experience it. It is something we cannot fully comprehend until we have lived it, and it is troubling knowledge to carry because once we have experienced it we cannot forget it.
One email in particular touched me. The man shared his story with me and then added this: “Do you remember that song ‘King of Pain’? That’s me. When I am in pain there is only me and the pain, and I am the King of Pain, a world where only I and it exist, but I think everyone who has chronic pain feels they are the King of Pain, too.”
We have so little understanding of chronic pain, really. Most of those who contacted me shared that the people in their lives tried to understand but often simply couldn’t relate to this debilitating form of pain. This gulf in understanding led to even more pain, pain of the emotional variety, and a breakdown in the ability of those in pain to connect with their loved ones. What became increasingly clear is how pain makes you feel alone, isolated on a small island of agony.
Others shared stories with me of experiences with doctors and emergency rooms, their pain being dismissed as drug-seeking behaviour. They told me of being treated with disdain and suspicion, their desperate pleas for pain relief seen as nothing more than a junkie looking for a fix. They told me how their pain not only stole their joy but their dignity, reducing them to being viewed this way by the very medical professionals they were relying on for the help they desperately needed.
The more stories I read the more I realized how chronic pain truly affects our society. While it may seem to primarily impact the individual there is a far wider circle of suffering, their families, their friends, their employers, their colleagues, the medical community and in the end all of us as we likely all know someone who endures chronic pain.
I suspect each and every one of us knows someone who is the King of Pain – and so it is up to us to reach out to them and encourage them to share their story and their pain with us, so we can try assure them they do not need to carry this kingdom and burden all alone.
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