The Happy Challenge

The Happy Challenge

By Suzanne Stewart.

The suffering of the chronic pain patient can be mostly silent, somewhat invisible.  People will sometimes ask “where are the bruises, the medical machines or the marks on your body”?  Let me explain about the “hidden bruises”, the “quiet bleeding inside” and the sporadic silence.  The “silent screams” are more often quiet because we are seen as complaining if we are too vocal.  When we don’t say anything or we look “fine”; then we must be Okay because we appear to be fine on the outside and we are not complaining. We may verbalize that we are tired and then they say “Oh yes, I’m tired too! I know what you mean. It’s normal to be tired at our ages. You just have to work through it!” They don’t realize that we have to “ration our spoons” throughout the day (see the “spoon theory” by Christine Miserandino, at  There’s no sense trying to explain it to them because it is not a battle of words that we have the energy to argue about.  Most people who do not live with and deal with daily chronic pain, just cannot understand or fathom the idea that just taking a shower and getting ready for our day, can use up so many of our “spoons” or so much of our energy.

Suzanne Stewart

We may agree to attend an event or a family outing if at all possible.  We don’t intend to break a “promise” but when we go against our own best judgement; we may then suffer.  Sometimes we go, but cannot stay very long; they say we are “phony”.  We try to hide how we are feeling, but sometimes even with our greatest strength, we have to submit to the pain and fatigue. We need to listen to what our bodies are telling us.  That’s when we start losing friends and family members. We start getting invited to social events less often. Though we really wish to be invited and truly want to go, if we possibly can.

Next, we have the other chronic pain patients who have knowledge of the “Spoon Theory” and some of the similar feelings that we all experience daily.  Then for one reason or another, maybe because we are not all at the “same place at the same time”; we may be judged again by our peers. It hurts, because we all experience the chronic pain and fatigue, but we may each handle it differently. I try not to judge anyone for doing what they need to do to take care of themselves. When you only “know” someone through social media, you don’t really know them or their daily struggles. You only know what they choose to share.  It hurts when someone judges me for appearing to be active on social media. It’s true that I am an Ambassador for the U.S. Pain foundation, I’m a freelance writer, a blogger, a mentor, a patient leader for WEGO health and I am a health advocate. But I don’t have to do anything on any day or days, if I don’t choose to. I may be in my recliner for 20 out of 24 hours some days. But that doesn’t mean that I cannot encourage, counsel, connect or give TLC to others.

If I do an event, then I am literally “down” for several days afterwards. It is worth it to me, just to stay as positive, helpful and useful as I possibly can be.  I also don’t admonish others who are not in the same place as me.  I remember times when I didn’t feel as happy inside and I still have periods like that. The ups and downs are pretty normal within the lives of chronic pain patients.  Sometimes when in horrible pain physically and/or mentally; people generally think that others should be able to see or feel things the same way as they do.

Now, I have a different strategy for dealing with the pain. I utilize every possible venue to express my own pain and my reaction to the changes that it has made in my life and our lives. I am not always positive, nor am I constantly happy and upbeat. But I do try to be positive as often as possible on Social media. Sometimes people’s lives depend on it. Naturally, we all have our darker times; but I try to rarely share those publicly.  I’m not saying that I’m right or this is right for everyone. I’m just sharing how I deal with my own personal pain.

I felt the need or the urge to write about this because I received a private note from someone. It really hurt at first and I was crying. I participated and usually do participate in the various online events and “photo challenges”. It may be for U.S Pain foundation, for WEGO health or for RSDSA etc.  It’s just therapeutic for me and I enjoy being a part of these online events. If I can cheer up one person then it is worth it for me.  If I can show one person, a light at the end of the tunnel, then I have given them hope.   Someone sent me this private message and it said;   “Not to start anything but….why do you devote so much time and trouble to your blog, your websites, groups and writings?  Why don’t you just deal with the pain, like the rest of us? YOUR “Happy challenge” was yours not mine…. I guess we don’t see it the same way. I just try to get thru the day w/the least amount of pain possible and thank God when I awaken the next day.  No drugs, no docs, just PT and pain shrink….”.  Like I said, at first I cried and I was hurt by these words. For a few moments, I felt like it was and has been all for nothing.  But it’s not for nothing. We are not all in the same place at the same time.  There are stages of chronic pain, just as there are stages of grief; they are pretty similar. But one thing for sure, I don’t put others down for taking or not taking medications or if they choose to use an SCS or a pain pump (for which I’m not a candidate, due to an Immune deficiency disease). I feel strongly about doing whatever is necessary to achieve the best quality of life that I can possibly have.  I don’t choose to go to as many Dr’s as I once did. I try to just visit the specialists that my life depends on.  I don’t just “wait for the next day to arrive”.  Though I do thank God every day, for giving me life. I also don’t do PT after 9 years of doing it and I don’t go to a “pain shrink”.  But that is my choice.  I do take a normal dose of Opioid pain medication, of which my life “depends on” now.  I’m not “addicted”, but “dependent” on this medication. But guess what? I was able to attend my youngest granddaughters’ first birthday party because of this.  I GOT the pleasure of attending a U.S. pain conference this past weekend.  I got to do it and got through it, because I am able to take a pill that helps me get through these events.  Yes, of course I suffer still, for a few days afterwards, but I have the memories and so do the “little ones” and the other people who I got to spend time with. I also got to experience other persons like myself, who want to make a difference and try to help in the world of chronic pain.  It’s not for everybody and that’s OK.  We are all different, it’s supposed to be that way.  I don’t particularly enjoy things like gardening or cooking. Some people couldn’t imagine life without those things. I am me and that is OK.  I cannot please everyone and it’s alright.  I’m not crying any longer about the message. Instead I feel badly for the person who wrote it.  They are in a darker or more sad place than me. I will be there for them if or when they are ready.

It’s a difficult kind of life to explain when you look fine on the outside, your photos look like everything is “normal” on the outside; but my body burns and aches even through the smiles. I’m just like some of the other chronic pain patients, but I choose to outlet my pain in different ways. Nobody says that my way is the right way, but it’s the right way for me to express my pain and try to help others in the process.

Suzanne has lived with a Systemic CRPS & several other chronic pain illnesses since a MVA in 2002. Prior to being disabled from chronic pain, she was an Interpreter for the Deaf at a hospital & worked with Deaf children. Since 2005, Suzanne’s been a patient Health advocate, support group leader & Mentor.  She continues doing these things today, but also does public speaking, awareness events and she’s a Writer/blogger & an Ambassador for the U.S. Pain Foundation. 

For entertainment she creates advocacy videos & uplifting ASL cover song videos on You tube and she writes in her own blog Tears Of Truth (

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Authored by: Suzanne Stewart

There are 19 comments for this article
  1. Nicole at 9:31 pm

    Thank you! Sincerely and wholly!

  2. Dooney at 7:47 pm

    Suzanne, maybe that person who wrote you the note should just stay off social media pain sites if they are so bothered by your postings or anyone elses. We are mostly in the same boat and attacking a fellow pain warrior in my eyes is just wrong. I may not always agree about what is written, the studies posted etc. but would never lash out at the person who put the article out.

    On another pain site, some of the posters were downright hateful to an author who had written an article they didn’t agree with. No you can’t please everyone but those responding to those writing articles or sharing info need to be more respectful and kind. I always look forward to reading your articles and though I don’t know you personally, you seem like a kind, carin individual, someone who I definitely would want as a friend in life.
    So though you received that note, know that there are many many on this site who appreciate you and your pain advocatey efforts!

  3. janice Tausch at 4:46 pm

    your words are wonderful. In every way to me . I’m so grateful to read and know all about what I thought I was going through alone. I wish no one to have to suffer through the pain those of us with chronic pain do. You do a great job , keep up the great work.

  4. Laural Walsh at 2:14 pm

    Thank you, Suzanne for this letter. I know it is helpful to so many of us. Thank you.

  5. John S at 12:37 pm

    Suzanne - great article, very well articulated and I think most all of us can relate.

    Years ago prior to my current condition while working as a Golf Teaching Pro I was constantly asked ” How’s your back ” ? I got tired of telling people how crappy I felt - I wondered even if some even cared. After a while I answered everyone with - ” I feel great ” ! After a short time most folks stopped asking & that was ok with me. Those that did care would still ask & offer advise or an anecdotal story.

    That was nearly 20 years ago and now I’m much worse but the odd thing is - very few people ask how I feel. My guess is, with little or no social life I don’t see many people that would ask.

    The worst thing for us to do is ” suffer silently “, we need to be heard or we will be forgotten.


    John S

  6. Ibin at 12:18 pm

    Suzanne, my wife was diagnosed with fibromyalgea and limes disease, ten years ago.. The two are almost indistinguishable. She struggles with full body pain, everyday. She stopped driving over 8 years ago. I myself suffer daily pain, and have for over 20 years.

    My wife could not function in almost any capacity, and after a valiant attempt to “beat” the pain, she had to go on disability. I am the only one left to provide., drive, run the errands, and attend my 80 year old Mothers needs who is all but, bedridden. I attend her daily, but she needs help securing, her medications, food, and “run” errands for different needs. She has some trouble managing “around the house” also. I am responsible to my spouse and, my Mother to drive them to their doctor appointments. Both rarely, “leave home” for any other purpose.

    As a two time back surgery patient, my pain is also,not visible with the exception of a 7″ scar, but the “scar” has healed. The continuous pain comes from within. Two surgical plates and four surgical screws that were supposed to improve my life, lessen the pain. I was driven to medication from unseen pain, and have used medication, responsibly, prescribed from my “pain specialist” for over 20 years.

    Unable to work at the present, I am probably more motivated to stay employed as I have owned a small business for over 35 years. I have used medication, sufficient medication, successfully, beneficially, documented, for over 18 or 19 years. “Shook” down at very appointment, medication has help me to be self reliant, self sufficient, without “incident” for a long time. I find it great for the pain patient, and I do not like saying “chronic” pain as it is indicative of the “problem” is the patient themselves, for the pain patient to remain active without medication. I wish I could. The good Lord knows, i, we have tried, for several months now.

    There are different “levels” of pain. Hidden but, daily, nightly, continuous pain. I wish there was a “cure” for all people actually suffering with pain. The pain patient, regardless of level of pain, must abide by a “set” amount of medication prescribed even if the patient has documented, beneficial use of medication, for decades. The CDC “mis-guided-line”, IS an intrusion upon ones sovereignty, self reliance, self sufficiency, and the ability to “provide” for yourself and loved ones.

    God bless all struggling with unseen, hidden on purpose, continuous pain.I hope there is an answer for the millions of people that have been subjected to worsened pain and suffering.I hope every LAST person with continuous pain, finds a resolve because, that is what dot/gov, intends for us to do.

  7. Juli Manz at 11:58 am

    July 11, 2017

    Very well said, Suzanne! You and I are living the same life, it seems. We have known each other for years via Facebook, and at one time we were “friends,” but time has drifted us apart; however, I still read your emailed newsletters. Today it is well worth my time to comment on this article. How cruel some people can be while in pain; I just did it myself yesterday: I wrote what was meant to be a helpful letter, but unintentionally hurt someone’s feelings with my words that only aimed to lend an editing hand. Pain is like that, no? Yes, it can viciously hurt others! Other’s pain has hurt me, and I have let my pain hurt others.

    Suzanne: you write the truth. For many years (7.5 years), I stayed in bed and cried. Now I’m out of bed and trying to DO SOMETHING after just over nine-years. People are not reacting well to my positive actions. Well, I am not sorry at all for not staying in bed and crying anymore. I want to be more like you, Suzanne! Please continue to set an example for me! Please continue to write stories like this, and show the world how CRPSers can be in pain but make a positive difference in people’s lives.

    Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is too little known and too little understood. You and I have to make it our mission to spread awareness everywhere we go. Our energies are NOT wasted! Yes, I too have to spend hours recuperating after any time away from home, but it IS worth it. Your story just proves it to me more! Suzanne, you seem to understand my life like no one in my close life understands me-I wish you lived next door to me-and this article spoke directly to me. Thank you for writing so clearly about a subject that means so much to me.

    Opiates are also a part of my daily routine. I take them regularly, and I have for years. This ridiculous “war on drugs” is bothersome to me because it’s my pain doctor’s job to help me. It is not his job to be persecuted for helping me, nor is it my job to be persecuted for taking meds that help me! Thank you, again, for speaking out on this sensitive subject. Why is this nation so dead-set on not helping chronic pain sufferers? I just completely don’t understand the stance!

    (**I do understand the opiate abuse factor; yes, I’ve read all the reports and seen all the data. I also understand the addiction/death rate reports; I’ve read all those reports, too. Moreover, I’ve read the reports about chronic pain patients who overdose on meds when the pain is too severe and under-treated because they can’t get proper pain relief-what about those reports? There are many, many sides to this “war on drugs” and I’m looking at all the sides very closely-I have been for a very long time.**)

    Suzanne, we’re still friends on Facebook. I don’t use Facebook very much these days because I have a lot of very hot fires burning elsewhere, but if you want to get ahold of me you are welcome to use Messenger-that’s the only place I receive notifications from Facebook. I’d love to hear from you about your awareness activities.

    Word up!

  8. Sue Mcmanus at 11:14 am

    I get it. After 12 long years, I am able to choose to change my life and fill it with with other coping ways. I feel like I went up a huge hill of pain and anger and regret and on top, I found contentment- well as much as possible with CRPS. But I had good moments and happiness while there. Now I feel I am on other side and can find my new way of fulfilling my life even with pain as my companion. I am coming out of a dead marriage and hope to find someone who gets it. I want to go back to school to see if I can. I want to feel hope that I can have as normal life as possible- even if it’s one day up and 2 days down. I am SO grateful because I never thought it would or could happen. I will look to you as a model that it can be done. Thank you, Suzanne

  9. Eve Rios at 10:52 am

    Thank you for sharing and I totally understand what you are saying. I try to live close to what you are doing, except I can’t put words together as well as you can so I could get out correctly what I need or want to say because of this I have had the negative responses from others and it hurts, because of this I do not write anything anymore just read. I have read things that you have written and love your postive attitude you have helped me by this! Keep up the great work! Loves and hugs for you.

  10. Terry at 10:50 am

    Great article. It’s always good to hear from someone who understands. Thank you

  11. paula downing at 9:53 am

    Your words express exactly how life is for we sufferers of chronic pain. I hear the same thing all the time, “you don’t look sick”, but chronic pain does rule my entire life. And I , like you, depend on my opiate medicine…it is the ONLY thing that allows me to DO anything…however, there is now a war against us on that front as well. NO ONE who has never suffered chronic, unrelenting pain can have any idea of how we are forced to live. Thank you for this awesome, insightful article. God bless.

  12. Joy at 9:26 am

    Dearest Suzanne,

    Each time you have a new article on this site, I go get my cup of coffee and eagerly sit down to read all you have to say because it inspires me to take tiny steps that let me live and not just exist. The feeling of being worthless is a horrendous pain within itself and can cripple if you aren’t on your guard. Your contributions help me to live!

    So, ignore the comments of one person and feel the appreciation from the rest of us. You are a beautiful, sweet lady and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you do on behalf of the pain community.

    God Bless You, Suzanne, keep doing what you are doing and don’t let anyone stop you!

  13. Kristine at 8:59 am

    I am so sorry that pain patients recieve so many judgements. I have tried to commit suicide and have tried every treatment possible and at the end of the day I take opiods to have basic functionin such as showering, making a meal, and walking my dog. I look fine but I feel like an ill 80 year old woman. I fight everyday to explain myself and why I don’t work, go out, and can’t make many important events. Being ill is exhausting but people like you who choose to make the best of a tragic situation should be applauded. I need all the encouragement I can get and ideas on how I can handle the unrelenting agony I feel 24/7. I was a teacher and therapist for many years before I became ill and still grieve at the loss of my old life. I think you have great courage and you are mature enough to see that people grieve in steps that are not necessarily in order. Please continue to share and take the risk to educate others who experience Intractable Pain and those who don’t and can’t relate to that kind of ongoing suffering that is all to real but poorly understood even in the medical community. Take care of yourself and realize there are people like me who appreciate your sharing.

  14. HJ at 8:31 am

    Sometimes chronic pain patients who are coping poorly lash out at others. It’s part of the reason that I limit my participation in communities.

    I used to share research and illness information and I worked hard to find good sources of information — medical journal summaries, National Institute of Health information. I was careful in what I shared because there are people who want to take advantage of people who are suffering with chronic pain. Lots of fake cures and false hope for people with fibromyalgia — so I vetted everything and took the time to read and try to understand it.

    I was told that I “share too much research.” Nevermind that the forum easily allowed people to skip what they don’t want to read, and that my username was clearly marked as who started the threads.

    Things had already became unpleasant as people became polarized about treatments, had professed to have found their “miracle cure” and proceeded to bash others who hadn’t yet been “converted.”

    I chose to leave, because the stress was affecting my own health. The in-fighting was frequent and very nasty — down to people trying to locate each other’s personal details/contact information. Nothing was sacred. Maybe we had a troll or two who were purposely stirring the pot. I suspect that was true.

    You give so much… It’s amazing what you’ve done for the pain community. I suspect that people imagine that you have so much energy. You look vibrant in your pictures. Unfortunately, even people with chronic pain forget how frustrating it is for people to say “But You Don’t Look Sick.” They have no idea of what personal costs you put into your efforts. It’s personally rewarding, I know, to help others.

    Negative emotions like envy, resentment, sadness, frustration… seem to be intensified with chronic pain. Mental clarity misleads us to forget that we have good days and bad days and so, maybe the other person does as well. We think about how we feel at that moment.

    I’ve noticed that when I’m more emotional, I have to stop and ask myself if it’s because I’m in pain and if so, what do I need to do about it?

    Now I’ve lost my train of thought but I do want to thank you for what you do, from the bottom of my heart. Know that it’s not you… that it’s more an expression of them saying “I’m hurting! I’m suffering!” but it unfortunately translated into “…so I’m going to lash out at you.”

    It has nothing to do with who is sicker or how we cope. It’s just that momentary cry of “I hurt! I’m suffering! I feel helpless!” that turned into hurtful behavior.

  15. Michelle Garcia at 7:28 am

    Another great article, Suzanne! So very true and is also how I feel. I am so upset as my worker’s comp claims adjuster just decided to not approve my pain meds that I have been on since 2008! This may be the end for me. To live with my arachnoditis without pain meds? Why God? I need help. Why do they make us suffer. No one can see or feel our pain. I feel crushed…..Inhumane treatment to just cold turkey cut me off. They will kill me! What can I do????


  16. Signe Topai at 6:39 am

    Thank you for this beautiful, heartfelt truth. I too was criticized on a Chronic Pain Site for being positive and encouraging to others. I choice not to be negative, take my meds as prescribed and participate in life when I can. I feel sorry for those who must attack others for just trying to have a meaningful life. It demonstrates which stage of grief they are in and that their pain is all consuming. I choice to pray for them. God Bless you and honey……KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK! Thank you😇

  17. Chris Domalewski at 6:33 am

    Suzanne; please don’t listen to that negative person. I felt in my heart all of the ideas and topics you covered in this one blog. I know people ‘doubt’ my pain. I know I can ‘fake it’ pretty well when I’m in front of others. They don’t see me inside my home, moaning from pain, or crying because I can’t bend down to pick up something on the floor. Even some ‘famous’ doctors in NYC didn’t quite get my pain. I feel like they don’t understand either. Please keep on doing what you are doing. We all try to deal with pain differently. To that one negative comment…yesterday I put on the radio very loud and sang along with the music to distract from my pain. I may have looked and sounded ‘happy.’ But, it was purely distraction about my pain. So ‘dealing with’ pain may look ‘false’ to others looking in. It’s just the way it is. Yes, I don’t get invited to many social outings any more, because I can’t commit. I don’t know how much pain I will be in from day to day, minute to minute.
    Suzanne; keep on doing what you are doing. I appreciate your efforts. And, it makes me happy to think it helps your pain, too.

  18. Danny Elliott at 5:23 am

    Suzanne, since you have embraced the roles of chronic pain ambassador, blogger, etc…, I understand the need to be “happy” or “upbeat”, in order to try to be a positive influence on other chronic pain sufferers and others who don’t understand chronic pain. What others think, especially fellow chronic, high-level pain sufferers, shouldn’t matter to you because you are doing a service for us and you have to play a role in order to get your point across. But, you are human and you do suffer with debilitating pain, so it makes sense that when others in pain make critical remarks to you, it sometimes will be hurtful.

    However, because of the role you have accepted in social media and with public pain organizations, you have placed yourself in a position that some fellow pain sufferers either can’t understand (because either they couldn’t do what you have accomplished so they feel “less than”) or they haven’t had the opportunity to do the things you’ve done and don’t understand how you can do them if your pain is similar to theirs. Either way, you are now a fellow sufferer who many look up to; some may feel like they “know” you because they’ve read so much that you have written. And they look to you for guidance in this dark, difficult world. Or, as with the person you mentioned, there may be some envy or jealousy involved. Personally, while I totally understand your initial reaction, I think you should wear such comments as a badge of honor. You HAVE accomplished a great deal while dealing with chronic, high-level pain! Be proud of your accomplishments and your influence on others.

    I will sum up this comment with one final point: Because you are a public figure to pain sufferers, I’m not surprised that you receive comments that are not positive in nature. Most of us need to be able to vent our frustrations to someone, and there is no one better than another chronic, high-level pain sufferer. It’s my experience that when some of us have vented for 10 - 20+ years to those closest to us, the amount of empathy seems to deteriorate over such a long time. Even our families, who have seen us suffer for so long, can only be a “cheerleader” for so long before they get tired of the playing the role. I don’t believe it’s out of a lack of caring, but I’m sure it can be burdensome to “play that role” for so long. So, when we aren’t getting the support we need from the usual places, some of us turn to people like you, who always seem to be around and have a great attitude. Please note: to us, when all we see is your writing or appearances, you do appear to always have a great attitude. It can be difficult to separate the writer from the person. And many of us can’t even fathom putting on the facade of having a great attitude.

    Thanks for all you have done for the chronic pain sufferers, Suzanne!

  19. Joanne Pluta at 4:15 am

    Thanks for the great article. You always inspire me.

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