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The Reality of Pain and How To Cope

Whether you’re suffering aloud but lack support or are suffering in silence, learn the key to managing pain in a not-so-vulnerable climate.

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Have you ever been stung by a bee? Had a major surgery? Had a chronic injury or have experienced trauma in your life? Often times we can’t pinpoint that feeling until we see those exact occurrences portrayed through Hollywood movies, online videos, and our favorite influencers. The shared experience I’m talking about is pain. We all experience these things yet pain is still one of the rarest things to be openly talked about in the correct context. When was the last time you had an open conversation about the pain someone else was experiencing on a daily basis?  On the contrary, when was the last time you had an open conversation about the pain you experience on a daily basis? My hope for this article is to break down the barrier that keeps us from acknowledging the muddy waters that people trudge through every day to keep up with everyone else. To understand the shared struggles we all go through. And to help you lead your life with compassion and empathy, while feeling empowered to give yourself the grace you deserve.

How Would You Describe Pain? 

Despite all of our differences, pain is one of the few things we have in common. Pain comes in all shapes and sizes at every single level. It can be vastly felt and it can also be extremely personal. But that doesn’t mean one matters any more than the other. Before I go into the pain of others I’d like to share one of my experiences with pain.

Growing up as a Texas boy, I dreamed of playing football or pro-powerlifting. It was my passion to see how far I could push myself mentally and physically, becoming the best athlete I could be. I did these things from little league well into my sophomore year of high school until sharp pains started catching up to me. It had always hurt to kneel or squat for long periods of time and usually was trumped up as growing pains. But that was normal for me. so I assumed those were pains everybody felt. But it got to the point where there were certain times that I couldn’t focus on my life as a teenager. Turns out, I had a lot of cartilage damage. Enough to justify a double arthroscopic knee surgery. Little did I know that was only the start of my journey. The doctors informed me this would be a chronic issue and that I would have knee problems for the rest of my life. For 10 years after that initial surgery, I endured pain every single day, only getting worse with time. I struggled to convince doctors that I was not an over-dramatic, drug-seeking kid — I was in pain. When I exhausted every half-witted idea they had to fix my pain, I was finally able to find a doctor willing to do a knee replacement. Thankfully since I’ve had one of my knees replaced, I have been able to keep my pain at a manageable level helping me live a life I thoroughly love.

For 10 years I had to fight a physical and mental battle daily. I had to ignore the sharp stabbing pain in both knees with every step I took. Simultaneously,  I had to push myself to get through essential tasks with my knees buckling or locking up. Sometimes this meant fighting through the pain just to get through a grocery trip. This was all while trying to grow my career, spend time with my wife, and build my life. 

“I struggled to convince doctors that I was not an over-dramatic, drug-seeking kid
— I was in pain.”

Needless to say, I have become very familiar with pain: physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially. It fascinates me to know the variation and amount of pain that people around the world experience every day, though we rarely hear it acknowledged.

Why don’t we want to understand what people are going through?
It’s not that we don’t all know pain exists in the world. We all know, see, or hear about the horrible things that happen every day. But why is it that we always hear about the action and not the result? You may hear about the death of a loved one, but you don’t hear about the damage and heartache the family has to endure. Or, you may hear about someone getting into a horrible accident that hospitalizes him/her for weeks, but you don’t hear about the years of recovery it takes to get their life back. Maybe it is the fact that life happens and since we’re not affected, we don’t see a need to call pain out for what it is. Or, maybe it’s that pain is already so minimized that when combined with people who don’t want to understand, it simply isn’t worth trying to explain. Well, that can end with us.

Normalizing Pain Through Empathy 

In such a fragmented world, I find it important to acknowledge the pain other people go through. To let someone express the extent of their experience without getting into a “mine is worse than yours” debate. Why? Wouldn’t you love to have an open space where you can speak freely about everything you’re feeling, with no judgment or negativity? To truly be seen and heard, even if for a moment. How many lives could that save if we opened up the conversation?

Here’s how you can start the conversation about pain:

  1. Create a safe space with a loved one.
  2. Be clear with your intentions and let them know you’re seeking a better understanding.
  3. Find resources online that give you a deeper knowledge of the topic you’re seeking more information on. Not sure where to start? Podcasts, blog articles, videos, and coping mechanisms.
  4. Use body language to demonstrate a warm, non-judgmental environment and that you’re present.
  5. Find areas to relate to without taking the spotlight away from the person who’s sharing.

You may be surprised to hear of the extraordinary things we all go through but don’t speak about in fear of others misunderstanding or simply not having an open format to do so. That being said, I would highly suggest not forcing anybody to speak about something they are not ready and willing to speak on. All you can do is invite someone to share openly and honestly, but it is not their responsibility to appease you. 

Side Effects of Pain

Now, talking about pain helps cope with pain, but what effect does pain have on us?
The Mental Toll 
When I’m having a bad pain day it’s hard to think, be present, or even remotely consider being in a good mood. It’s not that I enjoy being angry, but my brain is just so busy trying to think past the pain that I don’t have the capacity to enjoy everything the day has to offer. Long-term pain is now considered a neurological disease that can lead to anxiety and depression (Perry G. Fine, MD, Long-Term Consequences of Chronic Pain). I have experienced both in my life, but thankfully I sought help and was able to get back to my baseline.
Speaking Up, Speaking Out 
If you are experiencing long-term pain, it’s not going to be the party of the century. If you’re aware though, you’ll be able to catch the warning signs when it is no longer manageable. I used to hate the word “manageable” from all the doctors I saw, but while the healing process is progressing, the best we can do is to manage. As a good manager of your body, if things get to a point that you can no longer manage with the resources available, then it’s time to get more help. Not only is this smart, but it is an obligation to yourself. Though asking for help can have a stigma, relate being a good manager of your body to being a good manager in the workplace. A good manager cares more about helping their employees lean into their strengths to reach a company goal, rather than a hit to the ego. Similarly, when it comes to your body, consider the value you can gain from advocating for it rather than letting others decide what it deserves by falling into the fear of speaking up. If we let that pride win, we are choosing to ignore our own well-being at our detriment. Asking for help is different for everyone so don’t be afraid to get experimental with it. Find things that help you deal with the extra load that pain adds to your brain.
How to Ask for Help When Coping With Pain 
  1. Talk to someone who knows what you’ve been going through
  2. Practice the conversation before initiating it
  3. Take the negative stigmas around your pain away
  4. Find someone online who’s similar to you and/or has shared a similar experience
  5. Make a list of questions you have for yourself
  6. Consider seeing a therapist
  7. Create a list of areas you could use additional support in

Find further information about these tips on Psych Central.
Moral of the story: pain adds a lot of damage to our lives when we probably have enough to deal with in the first place. Until you’re ready to commit to your healing journey, the best way to manage your pain is by finding ways to manage your well-being and to become an advocate for yourself, your body, and your life. 

I’m not a researcher, scientist, or expert in my field. I’m simply sharing a few ways I’ve learned to cope with pain for decades. What’s written above are only a few practices that I have learned over time. This is by no means an end-all-be-all solution. Nor is that what this article is intended to be. My only hope is that with sharing this we can begin to explore pain and how it affects our lives. Learn to deal with certain things without self-destruction. Overcoming adversity is one of the most astounding things about human beings, but we don’t all make it. So why not do our best to lift each other up? There are things in this life we can not change. But how we deal with pain doesn’t have to be one of them.

"Pain may be an unwelcome guest in your house, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up your bed."

What’s your take on pain? Should we speak more openly about it or accept that everyone deals with it and stop creating conversations around it? Share your thoughts below!

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