Over the past few weeks since I’ve begun sharing my story of chronic pain on this blog, via its companion Twitter feed, through Facebook and just in general, I’ve learned two things: 1) I’m not alone – not by a long shot, and 2) by sharing, I’m helping others to bring out what they’re going through as well. During this short time, several friends have come to me with their own stories of pain, and four have started blogging about it.
I’m engulfed by sadness for those who toil daily with similar agonies, but I’m also overwhelmed with a positive feeling that by communicating about what we’re going through, perhaps we can help each other heal and help reduce the general stigma that surrounds people who live in pain. John F. Kennedy, one of the most revered leaders in modern history, suffered in severe chronic pain for years, yet he had to cover it up in order for the public to have confidence in his presidency. We can all gather strength from each other and our experiences.
Sometimes it takes spokespeople or martyrs to bring these things to light. Brooke Shields was very brave to come forward and tell her story of postpartum depression and as a result, public perception and policies are changing. It should also be noted that of those who came to me over the past month to share their pain were an experienced high-tech CFO, a high level elected official, a teacher, a media producer, a computer programmer, a start-up COO, a professional chef, a physical therapist and a sales executive. Most of these people are also parents. Chronic pain can happen to anyone and for a wide range of reasons. No one is immune.
I’m not about to assume one person’s pain is any better or worse than another’s, but there is definitely a connection that forms easily between those who suffer from similar ailments. My father, a polio and post-polio survivor, has built strong bonds with the few who remain from the era where so many lost their lives from the vicious disease that took the use of much of his upper body. He told me that Charles Mee’s book, A Nearly Normal Life, pretty much said it all in terms of what he went through.
I feel proud for those who have told me I inspired them to share what they have been feeling in silence over this past month. I can only hope that for them, the act of communicating about their pain, fears, and other related emotions will be turn out to be helpful overall vs. hurtful. It is a double-edged sword, as I discussed with a neighbor (who also faces constant pain) earlier today. When you don’t tell people what’s going on in your life in terms of health problems and related pain, they will think you’re a flake when you can’t make it to a meeting or a social event; on the other hand, when you do tell them, they can make all sorts of incorrect assumptions, viewing or treating you differently.
One thing I have learned over time – through watching my father battling on life support to his work as a formidable lawyer, through observing friends and families battling cancer and profound loss, and through working as a community organizer seeing how people can come together – the human will is a powerful ally, and the collective human will can achieve unimaginable greatness. So whether it’s cervical disc deterioration, diabetic peripheral neuropathy, post-herpetic neuralgia, pudendal nerve entrapment or any other of a number of causes that attack our nervous systems, although we may be alone in the exact type of pain we feel at that moment, we are not alone in our suffering.
As JFK said in his famous speech initiating the Apollo lunar program (paraphrasing William Bradford of 1630), “all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.”