Please forgive my absence. Please also forgive the repeat topic posting. I know I've posted on this issue before, but because it is so ever-present in my life, I think there are things I've said that bear repeating. Living with chronic pain affects everyone around you. There are many different kinds of chronic pain and some are more debilitating than others. In case there is one person on the planet who doesn't know mine, I suffer from severe migraines. When I say severe, I mean the kind that puts you to bed for days at a time. I was about 8 when I was diagnosed, but I have had them since I can remember. It's just that migraine is not a common diagnosis for a kid (and I had to have all of the "rule out" tests to make sure I wasn't actually dying, which is what it felt like). Sometimes I have nausea and vomiting (I know - savory), but not always. It's not a requirement for a migraine, contrary to popular belief. In any case, here are four things to keep in mind if you live with someone with chronic, debilitating (as in it compromises their ability to live a normal life) pain:
1. They don't enjoy it. I know that some people say that they would love to spend a day in bed like I "get" to once or twice a week (or more). No you wouldn't. I'm not getting extra rest. I'm in pain - sometimes so much pain that I can't move a muscle, sometimes so much that I writhe. When the headache breaks I'm much more exhausted than I was before it started...and guess what exhaustion can lead to? Yep - migraines.
2. They hate what their pain does to their families more than they hate what it does to them. In my case, my migraines meant that Therese (10 days away from being 13!) knew how to change diapers on infants when she was 3 (and she was good at it!), could make lunch for toddlers when she was 3.5, and could be trusted to monitor a toddler's crib and twins' swings for signs of activity/irregularity at the same age while I was passed out on the couch. Now that everyone is older, it means that the kids do school by themselves some days and carry on quietly while I exist in my quiet, dark bedroom. Sometimes they miss their activities. I often feel that my life is slipping away while I am lying in bed.
3. They are not faking it. I know that sometimes it is tempting to look at someone with pain issues and say, "Really? Man up for Pete's sake...it's just a headache/other ailment!" I am quite sure that there are people out there who do milk their suffering for sympathy, but there are far more who don't. Just because you can take two Tylenol and be rid of your headache does not mean that someone who is not that fortunate is faking it or not trying hard enough. Many people with severe migraines can take some serious drugs and have absolutely no pain relief at all. I'm in that category, so much so that I have a cabinet full of impressive sounding drugs that I wouldn't even consider touching when I have a headache - there's just no point.
4. Pain can seriously impact a person's life. I often think about the fact that I don't think I could hold a "real" job. As it is, I often find myself scrambling to keep up/catch up with my work-at-home job. I have a wonderful boss who doesn't blink an eye if something is a couple of days late (primarily because of my long history with him and the fact that I have never not delivered something I said I would deliver), but there are times I have had a deadline and I have had to drag myself up to pull it together. There are many times where I have had to let something go that I have wanted to do because I couldn't make it with a headache. On days that I *don't* have a headache (and it's rare that I don't have some kind of headache, but most days I can at least function), I have to get as much done as I can so that I can hedge my bets for those headache days. Sometimes, though, I just can't get ahead because I have so many stacked consecutively. Then the dominoes start to fall...
I absolutely don't want this post to sound like I'm complaining - I'm not! In fact, I have a very Catholic view of suffering. I consider it a gift (read the article - I promise I'm not just saying that!), and on my better days I am truly thankful for the opportunity to share in the tiniest way in Christ's suffering for me. Plus, as I remind my children migraines aren't fatal, and as long as we're dealing with something that's not fatal, we'll all be okay. I just think it's so important for people not to jump to conclusions about others and to keep in mind that just because you can't see at a glance what someone is going through, it doesn't mean that they are not going through something quite impactful.