By Ellen Lenox Smith.
Living with chronic pain is an incredible physical burden and at times a monumental emotional challenge but it is not a competition.
It is difficult to live with chronic pain and hear someone suddenly telling you how their circumstances are so much more difficult than yours. On the other hand, it is also difficult when one assumes that because you have too much on your plate, that sharing their difficulties would make you uncomfortable, so they don’t share any of the difficulties in their lives. I want to address both these issues and hope people will think about the consequences of words and actions.
Let’s start with those that attempt to make sure you know how much worse they are from you. Of all people, others suffering with chronic pain, loss of normalcy of life as once known, and the hardships that can be brought on really don’t need to hear judgements relative to one’s pain level. Judgmental comments should not be part of a pain warriors vocabulary, but it happens. Right now, I am out of the wheelchair, which I lived in for four years, my neck has been fused again with amazing results. However, this was my twenty-fourth surgery and life has been a huge dangerous life-threatening struggle. I may look much better to others, and presently I am, but my life will unfortunately be tenuous with my two incurable conditions. So, celebrate with me the progress I live with right now but don’t belittle what it has taken to get to this point! We should all know that you can’t judge anyone by the surface appearance. I don’t know about you, but I can’t handle someone telling me how much worse their life is than mine. Maybe theirs is, but what is the point of trying to compare? I try hard to stay positive and care about others and pay forward anything I have learned to try to lessen the horror to the next person. But I do believe it is damaging to insinuate and compare pain levels or the severity of symptoms. We must simply respect the fact that we are experiencing suffering but comparing degrees of suffering is fruitless and can harmful emotionally. Chronic pain is not a competition and one should be listened to and cared about, not judged and compared.
And then there is the topic that makes me feel as if I am not still here living life. These are the times I have had people, who mean well, tell me finally about something difficult they have been facing but didn’t want to bother me. The comments are thoughtful, generally sharing that as they felt my condition was so much worse. These individuals felt that their issues were trivial and thus not worth focusing on. I know these people are trying not to compare and they clearly mean well. We all must face different challenges and who are we to say what is worse? When one finally shares something so important to their lives they have been trying to cope with, it makes me feel sad and left out to have not known they were struggling with difficult issues. I wish I had known and been able to extend compassion to them! I am not the one comparing and feeling my life is so much worse. We are all adults and have lived long enough to understand that life brings on so many different challenges – whether health issues, losses of love ones, jobs, home etc. So who are we to compare what is worse? At least these people are showing concern towards us, but please know we want to feel we are still here living life and caring about you. Let us return compassion to you and know we would appreciate you keeping us in the loop. Please don’t stop sharing your difficult challenges. Sharing is not the same as comparing. They are just as worthy of our concern and support despite us living with chronic pain.
The first example is generally brought on by one that is a bit more self-centered and needing us all to know they are having a difficult time that we need to be sure to notice. The second one is brought on by someone that cares so much that they believe their own lives do not have as much on their plates and feel selfish sharing their challenges. Either one, please know those of us living with chronic pain are trying to live the lives we have been given and would appreciate you knowing that we want to be part of life, be compassionate and caring about others, despite our challenges. So share your life with us, let us care and support you in return! And those that compare, please consider letting that go and instead remember you can’t always see what another is coping with. Just because someone chooses to smile and try to be pleasant, it doesn’t always mean their live is smooth sailing!
May life be kind to you,
Ellen Lenox Smith
Author of: It Hurts Like Hell!: I Live With Pain– And Have a Good Life, Anyway, and My Life as a Service Dog!
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report.
Ellen Lenox Smith and her husband Stuart live in Rhode Island. They are co-directors for medical cannabis advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation, along with Ellen on the board and they both also serve as board members for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition. For more information about medical cannabis visit their website. https://ellenandstuartsmith.squarespace.com/