Pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined. Some sources say the number is 100 million; others say it is 1/3rd of the American population. Either way, the number is big enough to merit attention on the topic. Yet, despite the numbers, chronic pain is often overlooked, underestimated and delegitimized. Why is that? Why do we grant validity to other diseases and not chronic pain? And what does this mean for chronic pain patients in their journey towards comprehensive pain management?
There are many mythologies about chronic pain that have accumulated to create stigmas. One mythology says that experiencing pain is inevitable and there is nothing to be done about it but accept it. Another myth claims that pain is always a symptom of a disease rather than the disease itself and therefore does not deserve full attention. Yet another tells us that taking pain medication is always the best and sometimes the only solution.
This stigma places those who experience chronic pain in an uncomfortable position in which asking for help or practicing self-care is not taken seriously. As the Institute for Chronic Pain explained in an article they published on the topic:
“Sometimes, disapproval of how you are managing your pain crosses over to disbelief that you are in as much pain as you say you are. [People] don’t believe that your pain is a legitimate enough reason to rest or nap or cry or take narcotic medications or not go to work or to go to the doctor. They might think that you are making too big of a deal out of it. They doubt the legitimacy of the pain itself.”
Because of this attitude that chronic pain is “not a serious condition”, pain patients can sink into self-deprecation, telling themselves that they should not seek assistance, that their pain will never get better or that their pain will push their loved ones away.
However, PMIR believes that nobody deserves to live in pain.
This is why we promote self-advocacy in the process of pain management. At the end of the day, only you can wholly understand your pain and how it interacts with your mind and body. While there are plenty of doctors and healers out there who want to help you manage your pain, only you are responsible for controlling it. Holding yourself accountable to enhancing your pain management will not only change the way you view your relationship to your pain but will also change the way the people around you perceive that relationship.
Hating your pain and ignoring your pain are both ways of being consumed by your pain, and they also feed into the stigma. Viewing your life as something you have to endure because of the pain will make every day feel longer and harder. Life is hard, and even harder with chronic pain, but it is also a gift and you have the opportunity to seek out new healing therapies and lead a conscious, healthy lifestyle.
Of course, our societal stigma and lack of education will not transform overnight. Start with yourself and then the most immediate people around you. We can flip the stigma on its head and say: seeking help and working on healing is strength. We should celebrate those who own their healing process.
Changing popular opinion is only possible through communal effort, and we can begin the process by passing this message along to the people in our lives who experience chronic pain or are affected by it in some way. In acknowledging chronic pain’s universality and legitimacy as its own multi-dimensional condition, pain patients will feel more comfortable being transparent about their condition, asking for help, being persistent in their pain management practice and trying new and integrative healing in their quest towards a healthy lifestyle.