Cake, Chronic Pain and Dignity

The other day I watched the trailer to the movie Cake in which Jennifer Aniston portrays a woman who lives in chronic pain. I watched, held my breath and burst into tears at the end of the trailer when Aniston says, “I am in…a lot of pain ” and one of the therapists who is working with her says “do you want to get better, really?”… “i do”…

I don’t know the entire story line of the movie. I assume that my path is different than that of her character. However our journeys are similar that I understand the what is required to answer the question, “do you want to get better, really?”.

It has taken me 2 decades, horrific amounts of pain, and humiliating moments of being treated poorly to really understand that question.

Yes, I do really want to get better. I am working as hard as I can to heal.

The Washington Post reports that it is estimated that over 100 million people in America suffer from chronic pain. That is a lot of people and chances are, you know a person who is fighting the silent battle.

It is such an easy thing to judge because pain is one of those things that all of us have experienced but once it stops, we forget how awful it really feels. When you live with chronic pain, you feel absolutely horrible for months, years without any significant relief.

This morning I read 2 articles which I wanted to share because they are helpful in understanding chronic pain.

This first article offers a good, easy to understand education on exactly what chronic pain is and it also offers a lot of HOPE for how a person can get better.

This second article offers some very helpful and realistic suggestions on how to interact with a person who is battling chronic pain.

In my experience, the episodes of pain have waxed and waned over the past 20 years.

And overall, I am much better because I have learned how to manage the pain.

However it has taken me 2 decades to learn to manage chronic pain (and I am still learning). It is a very real condition and if you do not deal with it from the inside out, from head to toe, from day to night; if you don’t change your lifestyle and address it–it will destroy you and your relationships.

You can get better.

Aside from wanting to get better, the biggest start to getting better usually comes from another person believing in you.

Which is why I think that it is crucial for society to understand how real and prevalent chronic pain is. If people can find the ability to show compassion and offer dignity vs. judgment, it can help a person come out from under chronic pain. It is a slow process and requires immense patience.

That usually means that a group of people will be part of the care-taking because it is all too much for one person.

The other thing that is really, really important is that the person in pain needs to be seeing good doctors. When I have been in pain, we have always made certain that a family member or friend has accompanied me to doctor appointments because illness makes it impossible to hear everything. In addition, the doctors benefit from having a 3rd person in the room to validate experiences.

If a person does not have friends or family available, hospitals and communities do offer advocates and/or caregivers that will attend physician appointments with a patient.

I’m a big believer in therapy. Living with crohn’s disease, leukemia and chronic migraines would be impossible if I had not had times when I talked to people who are trained in grief counseling.

Steering a person who is living in chronic pain toward therapy and good physicians is tricky because you don’t want to come off as judgmental but it is possible if you win their trust by loving them through the messiness of it all.

Even though chronic pain is difficult to understand, if you do know someone who battles it, pray that you will have compassion and wisdom with that person. Pray that you will know how to offer dignity to them.

This is the thing with chronic pain–it is so embarrassing. Because I have lived with it, I have met so many other people who live with it. Every person that I have met in this circle has confessed that they also feel humiliated and ashamed for being a burden to so many people.

I can’t tell you what works for everyone but I know that giving a person dignity, giving them patience and making them feel like their life matters goes a tremendous way towards their healing.

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