Learning to Wear My Badge of Honor With Grace

Learning to Wear My Badge of Honor With Grace

By Ellen Lenox Smith.

Aging is such fun! Whose idea was it to add even more challenges to daily life as we get older? No one can really prepare you for  the aging process along with the inevitable changes which accompanies it. Some of the changes occur very gradually and some can be quite rapid. The bottom line is, we need to learn how to take on this huge challenge, hopefully with dignity and grace. I am now at the age of sixty-eight and living with two incurable conditions which seem to be escalating the rate of my physical decline, much to my dismay. I am attempting to learn to change my attitude of feeling loss and frustration over not being able to accomplish all that I once could.

I have to remind myself two things:

  1. All people go through this process, so if others can do it, so can I.
  2. This is the one life I get to live, so I want to be remembered as one that took on this challenge with a smile and determination.

Ellen Smith and friend

It is funny how you can suddenly have a moment that jolts you and gives you strength. I was recently in the shower and noticing the bruising on my arm that spontaneously appeared, as I can bleed easily. For some reason, it occurred to me that I needed to view these scars, bruises, braces etc. in a new light - I should view these physical markings as badges of courage and honor. Whether it’s my electric wheelchair or the manual one we use in stores and traveling, the abundance of braces, the scars from now twenty-four surgeries, or numerous other signs of struggles and challenges, I realize these are the markings of a person who has been living their life and taking on the challenges that have been presented to them. No one is immune from the aging process. I hope that I have learned some valuable lessons from the often-extreme physical challenges I have been forced to confront over the years. I have attempted to persevere by trying to not give in with despair and a sense of hopelessness. Perhaps this is the silver lining for those of us who suffer prematurely the pain and indignities of disease, pain and disability. We may have, in a sense, been in training for the losses and trauma of aging.  Some are able to show such courage taking on this challenge, approaching closer to the final years of life. I want to learn to be like that! So now, I will look at these markings life has given my body in a new light.

I recently stumbled across the following quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” I love this quote but do get caught on the first words, that the purpose of life is not to be happy. I have always felt I have had the responsibility to be happy, no matter what is thrown at me. It may not be a purpose but it feels important to me. The rest I totally agree with and try hard to live by. The more I find I care about others, the more I like who I am and feel I have purpose to still be here.

So, those of us living with chronic medical issues need to be proud of the courage and determination required to live our lives while confronting what, at the time, seems to be insurmountable obstacles. We have to learn to find hope in our lives to hold on to. No one could have told me that is was possible to get out of that wheelchair after four years of living life in it or get my gut back to normal functioning after two years of it being totally shut down. By not giving up, we can generate a sense of hope which is the magic elixir upon which we all depend to preserve. It is not always easy to embrace this attitude, but it does make you look at life with rosier glasses when you do. I want my family and friends to remember me as a fighter, advocate and one that has taken on all life’s challenges with determination and courage. So, I will wear my badges of honor with pride and may you, too, find a way to be proud of your coping skills.

May life be kind to you.

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/

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Authored by: Ellen Lenox Smith

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/

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Nancy Wilson

Thank you for writing this article. I really never seen being in so much pain as honorable, but thanks to you, I do now! It does take a strong person who is passionate about life to find the positive side of dealing with chronic pain. The love for my family helps me push through the sleepless nights filled with pain. Looking at our life through eyes of being grateful changes our view of things.


Ellen, Thank you for this article. I am 69, have endured many surgeries as you have and as many here have suffered for years. My take is, we have had to be much stronger than someone who has not suffered our fates. As I have aged, I find my peers complaining about age related physical issues who have not been so challenged, and I mentally note how adept I am at coping with pain and thus can relate and adjust much better in my aging body. Just keep moving!


Your article is so sweet! Thank you.
So to
sum it up we are
1) Aging
2) are coping with one or more diseases
3) have a medical system that’s kept us alive for possibly decades with the help of opiate treatment for pain but now is taking those away all but 90 m m e.

1) I could cope with number one. Everyone has to do that.
2) I have even been coping with
number 2 for nearly 20 years with the help of opiates.
3) For me, I am being tortured at 187 mme down from 350. There’s no way I could make it on 90. I don’t see that as an inability to cope. I see it as an elimination.

God gives us all peace as we try to cope with all three as long as possible.


A very helpful message to read something positive was good badge of honor badge of courage also 65 chronic pain with sciatic n persistent idiopathic facial pain Abbie cunha

Denise Bault

I just remind myself that I am ONE STRONG B***H to have gone through- and am still going through- what I have!

Maureen M.

HI Ellen, yet another great writing by you! Thank you!
It brought me to ponder on ‘how do I really feel about living with my Chronic Pain and Fatigue conditions?’ I am 63, I became disabled at age 50 and have lived with Chronic pain since age 32.
It reminded me that, if anything, I have often considered (or known) that I have incredible inner strength.
My MANY scars do remind me of all that I have endured (the tough recoveries and the chronic aftermath of not healing as expected etc).
In my earlier years of disability I would hear myself telling my close friends and family that ‘I am already living the life of an elderly woman…both physically and emotionally’.
Although, they couldn’t relate to where I was truly coming from.
My friends (most are since elementary school) are just now beginning to retire.
They are traveling and living a much easier life now. I am happy for them yet I fight being jealous of their lives.
It has become a whole new emotional issue now for me.
I have endured so much more hardship than they.
Most of whom I could never see going through all that I have had to go through and continue to go through…and especially all alone.
So, with that said, I can’t help but now that I am an incredibly strong person.
And that’s my badge of honor.
When I live through my especially high levels of painful days or my ME kicks in on top of it,
it is extremely easy to get absorbed with the sorrow in it all.
But, thats when I dig deep and I remind myself that “I am woman, hear me ROAR! I can do anything!!” 🙂
I remind myself that ‘this day too shall pass, there’s hope for tomorrow to be a better day, so hang in there warrior!” And, I stay in bed, rest, sometimes cry my eyes out/sometimes hold back the tears, and fight even harder to make it through the day… and my badge of honor grows ever larger 🙂
Best of luck with your move and all! Please keep us posted on that. Maureen M.

Marsha Wiggins

Ellen, I’m so glad I read your article early on a Monday morning! It will encourage me not to stay in bed but to get up and stretch and do a little walking. Your attitude about facing the life I have and enjoying what I do have is an inspiration.


Thank you.