By Tara Clifton
Chronic pain is the most complex and difficult feeling to describe. It is my constant feeling. It is the same as asking someone to describe how breathing and blinking feels. It is less of a feeling, it is more of a state of existing.
Every time I go to the doctor or emergency room, they ask me to rate my pain on a scale of one to 10 and describe it. It is almost impossible to remember the last time I had a pain-free day, I have days that are manageable but not close to pain-free. This makes it impossible to rate my pain, if I have no “one” on my scale. I have days with less pain to compare it to but that is the extent of my ranking ability. Chronic pain patients cannot be asked to identify their pain the same way as people without. It is totally different. It is comparing a child who has not had a true meal in months and is legitimately starving to death to someone who had to fast for 12 hours. It is simply not the same.
When they ask me to describe it, I have to hold back laughter. It feels like my life, it feels like my existence. It feels like staying at home on a Friday night when all of my friends go out and have fun. It feels like blinking back tears when the elevator is broken and I have to climb six floors to go to my apartment, knowing I will move as slowly as possible and still hurt after.
It feels like having scars from a heating pad burn my skin from using it for hours on end. It feels like an overbearing parents or controlling partner that I constantly have to check in with and see if I am allowed to do something. It feels like the worst day of the flu but you are expected to continuing living your life. Nobody cares that you have the flu and you need to stop complaining because “everyone has aches and pains.”
My life exists in a constant state of pain. My body is constantly hurting. My mind is constantly hurting from being held back from my dreams because of my body’s limitations. When I am asked to describe it, I cannot express it in words like “throbbing, aching, stabbing, or burning” because that isn’t what it is. Those terms express a surface level pain. It is the way that you describe a burn from a stove or a sprained ankle. This pain is constant. It feels like the worst leg cramp of your life but lasts for hours on end. It feels like my knees are going to give out on me at any second because I am pushing myself to be on the same level as my peers. It feels like there is something inside of me trying to claw its way out of my abdomen. It feels like I ran into a brick wall repeatedly. These are feelings most people cannot fathom.
Since most people cannot fathom the idea of being in pain all of the time, not showing it, and continuing to go about your daily life they just chose to ignore it. Whether that is to protect themselves against the idea that a loved one could hurt that much and they can’t help or it is out of disbelief because they cannot see the condition causing the pain, it is a reality for millions of people.
Understand why it is difficult to explain to people without chronic pain. Believe people can still be hurting even if you don’t see them struggling. Be there for them when nobody else is. Try to be understanding when they may be short tempered with you. Understand that chronic pain is terrifying and isolating because there is no promise that we will ever feel better. Give us hope that even if there is no promise of a pain free day, there is the promise of people that love and care.