A Pained Life: Don’t Let My Smile Fool You

A Pained Life: Don’t Let My Smile Fool You

As a child after I was punished my father would say, “I don’t care how you feel, I want to see a smile.”

It was a lesson I took to heart.  In fact, the worse I feel the more I tend to smile.

It was not a surprise when one doctor said to me, “You’re smiling, so you can’t be in the amount of pain you say you are.”

600px-Smiley.svgOh yes I could.  But the smile belied my words.

My family abandoned me years before the pain started.  Not being able to work kept me from making friends.  Most of the ones I did have fell by the wayside as the pain took over.  Others moved.  It has been just me for many years.

Living life alone is hard enough, but it is even harder when I am in the hospital.

To compensate, I tend to walk up and down the hall, stopping and schmoozing not only with other wandering patients but also with the staff.

A nurse stopped me one afternoon.

“You’re here because of your pain but you don’t act like you’re in pain,” she said.

I smiled.

“Do you notice that I spend most of the time in my room?” I asked.

She nodded.

“That’s because I like to have my pain in private.”

Doctors, and others, often base their belief on how we present ourselves.  They rarely ask, “Why are you smiling?”  Or say “You don’t look like you’re in pain.”

One of the best suggestions from other pain patients is to make sure you keep a diary or journal of your pain to give to your doctor; when it happens, how often, how it feels, and so on.

There is another item I think should be added to the list:  “If need be, remember to explain why I look the way I do.”

This is especially true for women, but men are not immune.

You come in to the examining room and look good, your hair is washed and styled, your clothes ironed and neat, and there’s a smile on your face.  Your nonverbal message reads: I feel good. Life is fine.

Regardless of how you actually feel.

The opposite presentation; hair somewhat dirty, clothes wrinkled, a little stain, not quite tucked in, tends to send the message: I feel awful and I can’t.

The question isn’t asked, “Why do you look disheveled today?”

Instead it is often interpreted as depression rather than pain.

It is ironic.  In my case, the more eye pain I have the better and more open my eye looks. When someone tells me how good I look and how glad they are my eye and pain are better, it is hard to keep the smile fastened on my face. The one that is there because I don’t feel good.

The thing is, how is anyone supposed to know how we are doing and how we are feeling, unless we tell them?

If we want to be believed and to be taken seriously, we have to look at how we present ourselves.

And then we may have to speak up and say, “Please ignore how I look.  Ask me how I feel instead.”

And then really hear what we have to say.

Carol Levy

Carol Levy

Carol Jay Levy has lived with trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic facial pain disorder, for over 30 years. She is the author of “A Pained Life, A Chronic Pain Journey.”  Carol was accredited to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, where she helped get chronic pain recognized as a disease.

Carol is the founder of the Facebook support group “Women in Pain Awareness”. Her blog “The Pained Life” can be found here.

The information in this column is not intended to be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Only your doctor can do that!  It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s personal experiences and opinions alone. It does not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report or Microcast Media.

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Authored by: Carol Levy, Columnist

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It sometimes makes you wonder why you go to so much trouble & effort to”look good”. Must you be dirty & dishevelled to be in pain ?? Until there is a better understanding that conditions such as FM do exist, nothing will change. Even the news of the break through of a simple blood test for FM is now under the spot light as being suspect. Back to the drawing board it seems, with chronic pain being at the bottom of the pecking order when it comes to research.

I have just finished a book which is a free download on my website, http://www.lindacheekmd. It is Herb Survival for North America. I wrote it following my conviction for distribution, as I truly believe that we as a country are doomed and that people need to prepare for surviving off the land during the tribulation before the second coming of Christ.
I think there was an herb that specifically worked on trigeminal neuralgia. There are multiple herbs that treat pain. I am an unlicensed physician, and herbology is not my field. This was just an internet search and compilation I did. So do not query me about treatment. But please check it out and spread the word.

Kurt W.G. Matthies

Pain.. the 6th vital sign, but so difficult to measure.

Thanks for the insights, Carol.

Your pal in pain,


Thanks Carol, for your openness. It’s important for others to know what one is going through, as so many suffer with similar situations.

It’s also very important to see the connection between what our childhood was like and how that affects us today. There is always a strong connection there, as you’ve shown so brilliantly.

Although we seem to be ‘stuck’ with our past, that is not the case. It’s a matter of releasing the past, so we can move on with our life. The cause of most of our pain and health disorders come from our traumas in life. It’s a natural function of the human condition to become ill or in pain, after we’ve been extremely stressed, and the good news is that we can reverse that.

Through a systematic approach, using supplements and releasing techniques designed to rid the body of stress at the cellular level, you can become pain free.

It’s so important that you never give up your search for something that will work for you because you deserve a life that’s better than ‘this’.



Thank you for sharing this. I, too, tend to “look good” and not give away the pain in how I look. A recent doctor’s visit has convinced me that each of us, including our doctors, view life and pain through our own experiences and history. A pain diary helps, a good rapport with the doc does, too.