If You Think You’re Tired of Listening to People Talk About Their Chronic Pain, Imagine How Tired They Are of Living With It

Chronic pain affects more than 1.5 billion humans worldwide so the chances that you’ve heard someone talk about their pain is pretty likely. However, if this is your first time hearing about chronic pain, you’ll probably understand it more after reading this.

Chronic pain feels like you’re wearing a 100-pound coat filled with random pricks of cacti. Depending on the kind of chronic pain one is dealing with, it’s likely invisible, which means a lot of people can’t comprehend how someone can feel like this all the time.

I was 21 years old when I was diagnosed with systemic lupus. It’s been seven years now and if you know chronic illness — you know how tired we are of living with it.

I remember the day after I was diagnosed, I needed to go to the grocery store for milk. It was a cold morning in Colorado Springs and as if I wasn’t stiff already, I had worn three layers that made my movement robotic. I remember waiting for the area where the milk was to be clear of people in case I did something embarrassing. Well, as my life would have it, I grabbed the milk carton with my wrists and it slipped down and bounced on the floor. What was more embarrassing was trying to pick it up. Good Lord…it felt like bobbing for apples. All of a sudden I wished I hadn’t worn three layers of clothes as it only made me sweat more. A woman my age came around and picked it up for me (after she must have witnessed how ridiculous I looked). I made a weird, awkward laugh and muttered something like, “Sorry, ha-ha, condensation.” She replied with something along the lines of, “We all do it,” and then she was gone.
I starred at the milk carton in my basket and then at the girl as she walked away. I felt like I had egg on my face — so awkward and embarrassed. I stood there staring at my swollen, rosy hands wondering what my life was going to look like if I couldn’t pick up a carton of milk at 21 years old.

As time went on, the inevitable began. Pouring coffee was a struggle, brushing my teeth became a chore and brushing my hair was never going to happen.

My new normal was greeted by chronic pain in the mornings and kissed goodnight by never-ending tears. I knew I needed to accept the pain but I still couldn’t understand why my body was failing me.

My body continued to fail me throughout the years as I got sick with hypothyroidism, gastritis, migraine, and depression. And as much as I love the cold weather of October, this month has been especially piercing (and still painful) after I was diagnosed with Devic’s disease. They discovered I have optic neuritis and five brain lesions. I couldn’t say why pain likes to torture me. Why, if I’m not vomiting every day from gastritis for a week, I’m flaring in my knees or walking around half-blind with head pain for a month with sleep being my only relief. Why every second of every minute of the day I think about what it used to feel like to not feel a damn thing. And I look at the girl at the grocery store that has that extra pep in her step and I can’t help but feel an ache for normalcy.

I wish people would understand that chronic pain is a disease. It’s pain that requires lifelong management and it’s not cured by a magic pill or magical green tea matcha. People who suffer from chronic illness, or any disease for that matter, didn’t do it to themselves by what they ate or didn’t eat. Think about that before you blame a human being going through their own never-ending pain. Pain is pain and human life is human life. You can do all the right things and eat all the right things, but you won’t escape pain. It meets every one of us at some point in our lives.

Maybe if we tried to listen before we judged, we’d have a lot more people feeling less lonely in their pain.

I’d say I’m an extremely empathetic person toward chronic pain because I’ve been through the lonely part. You don’t even have to explain yourself to me — I just get it — and I’m sorry. I know you miss a thousand and one things and I wish I could tell you every broken part of you will be normal again, but I just don’t have the words. So, I’m going to tell you about the morning I drove to work and heard the Japanese legend of Kintsugi on 90.9 KCBI-FM.

According to legend, a Japanese shogun named Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent a cracked tea bowl back to China for repairs. However, upon its return, he was dismayed that it had been put back together with hideous metal staples and thus, Kintsugi was born. The tea bowl was put back together with golden glue and Yoshimasa found that it was even more beautiful after it had been broken and glued back together than it was before.

Kintsugi is related to the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi, which calls for seeing the beauty in the imperfect and also mushin, the acceptance of change. I know it doesn’t feel like it now, but as your pain breaks you — cracks you in every way — you’re changing into something new. You are your very own Kintsugi masterpiece.

So, to the people who don’t suffer from chronic illness, the next time you have the urge to give your opinion on chronic pain or perhaps roll your eyes at the person who takes a handi-cap spot even though they’re walking with two legs, remember that not all pain looks the same. Remember that they’re a human being suffering from a silent, invisible illness that you’re lucky you don’t have—and I hope you never have.


Remember that though you’re probably tired of hearing about people’s chronic pain, they’re undoubtedly more tired of living with it.

What if you were the golden glue that mended someone’s brokeness from chronic pain? That makes you part of the beautiful; a part of Kintsugi—a part of the change.

Don’t be a staple.

When You’re Homesick For All That You Were Before Depression

My fifth attempt.

This is my fifth attempt at writing this piece only to erase what I’ve written to prove to myself that maybe, just maybe I’m not in this.

Stare at blank page.

Resume latest episode of “This Is Us.”

Tears birth that have nothing to do with the show.

Close laptop.

I can’t wrap my mind around the place I’m at very well and so writing about it seems absurd — silly, even. You could say it’s all of life’s major disappointments all piling up. Or you might say it’s living with an incurable disease, but then I’d tell you I’d choose my physical pain over depression any day.

Maybe it’s people’s disappointments one after the other.

The timing of it all.

It pains me that I no longer feel like a broken plate of glass, salvageable because it’s only cracked in three pieces. Maybe some people can cement their broken parts with green tea matcha and essential oils or whatever the earthy healing trend is today, but that doesn’t cut it for me.

I feel crushed. Shattered in ashes.

Dust-like.

Homesick for all I was before depression met me.

The home of my heart is vacant; every blow of life only churns the ashes round and round in my heart.

If you’re going through depression, I know you feel heavy. You make a list of different reasons to tell your friends why you can’t make the outing so they sound different each time. Maybe you have a good family, a loving spouse, even a furry friend to take away your Sunday blues, but you still feel alone. It’s not that you’re not grateful — you’re heartbroken, hopeless at the thought you’re alive and yet no matter how hard you keep trying, you can’t seem to be present.

I have a reoccurring memory of my husband stopping me in our hallway to dance with me. I started to cry, croaking, “I don’t feel like dancing.” My husband’s reply was everything when he said, “Well then, we’re gonna dance.” Though my husband was holding me, I couldn’t seem to feel him. I only felt his hands holding mine and the warmth his neck brought to my freezing nose. My tears could fill a stream. No, it’s not that I’m not grateful. I’m desperate — frantic for just a moment not to feel miles and miles away from everything and everyone I love.

Depression feels like you’re waiting for something that’s never going to happen. I don’t know how to encourage you in my pain except to tell you a short story.

In early October of this year, I got a tattoo of an olive branch. Its meaning goes deep in my veins: Olive trees surprisingly thrive in deserts and rocky soil and when these trees are pressed, they produce something called beaten oil of the highest quality.

Olive oil was used to light household lamps in the past — the very thing that came once the fruit was picked and crushed, became the thing that gave new light.

Two months later, I walked into a Christian book store and saw a book titled, “100 Things God Loves About You.”

I opened the book and landed on #22:

God loves your ashes.

Tears filled my eyes and the words became a blur. I realized my dust doesn’t have to mean the end to anything. God loves my ashes because He will use them to make something new, like He did in the beginning.

But dust was essential, you see. This heartache has a purpose. And like other seasons of my life, this will be something I’ll look back on and know exactly why it had to happen this way.

Whether it starts out as a small flicker like the day I opened that book, the household lamp of my heart will turn on.

My light is coming.

Originally published on The Mighty