you're not listening

Why do you ask, when you either don’t care or aren’t going to believe me when I tell you?   People ask “how’s your pain?” and then either insinuate that  you’re not in the amount of pain that you say you are  OR you aren’t suffering as much as when THEY: __fill in boring but dramatic story details here_____”,   AND then they judge you.  I know, it’s hard for me to believe it myself, that I still have pain a full 6 months after my accident.   Pain is a singularly SUBJECTIVE experience.   I want to be clear about what that means:

subjective  sub·jec·tive (səb-jěk’tĭv) adj.  Of, relating to, or designating a symptom or condition perceived by the patient and not by the examiner.

In other words YOU have NO way of knowing how much pain I Am experiencing.  I don’t care what you think.  In nursing school we were taught if a patient says they are in pain, believe them.  When a patient tells you HOW MUCH pain they are in, believe them.  Because what the patient perceives is the only information that matters. So if what I say doesn’t convince you, what is it that makes you a disbeliever?  Is it because this has been going on for so long that it doesn’t seem possible…. because YOU have never had pain that went on for months?  Is it because I am going about my daily business trying to be a normal person?  Do I need to be in bed screaming to be believed?  I have tried screaming, yelling, crying.  That doesn’t help.  Just 3 days ago my physical therapist was hurting me so bad That i was begging her to stop, to at least give me a 2 second break… she didn’t, was I not in terrible pain?  No, I am not popping pain pills right & left.  I choose NOT to take them… and it’s not because I don’t have pain.  I don’t take them because I am tired of being jacked-up on prescription pain pills.  I would like to be able to do things that I normally enjoy doing and pain pills aren’t a part of that equation.   Yes, there are over-the-counter analgesics & I do take them… but they aren’t working for this problem….I still have pain.

There are varieties of pain:

   chronic  chron·ic (krŏn’ĭk) adj.    Of long duration. Used of a disease of slow progress and long continuance.

   acute  a·cute (ə-ky&oomacr;t’)  adj  Of or relating to a disease or a condition with a rapid onset and a short, severe course.

Every human being has experienced acute pain.  Having experienced the pain of stubbing your toe or being kicked in the shin leads the average person to believe that he is an EXPERT in knowing what pain is & the he KNOWS what the worst possible pain feels like.  Your experience of what the worst possible pain feels like may not be the same as the next person. People always talk about childbirth being the worst possible pain.  I have experienced that twice.  From my personal experience, childbirth is NOT the worst possible pain AND at least that pain is of relatively short duration.  Yes I know, I know, YOU were in labor for 24 hours…. blah, blah, blah,  I’m not impressed.  How do you like that?  Isn’t that a shitty thing for me to say?  Or how about, “well I was in labor for 25 hours and gave birth to triplets on a raft in the Mississippi River with no anesthesia & both hands tied behind my back in a hail storm… you don’t know what pain is”.

The doubts, belittlement, & disbelief are even more prevalent for a person experiencing chronic pain.  It is a different animal that most people have mercifully never experienced.  Chronic pain can hurt just as much as acute pain, but the objective signs are different.  One more vocabulary word for you:

objective  ob·jec·tive (əb-jěk’tĭv) n.  Indicating a symptom or condition perceived as a sign of disease by someone other than the person affected.

The objective signs of a person in ACUTE PAIN might be: crying, writhing, rapid heart beat, inability to go about one’s activities of daily living.  The objective signs of a person in CHRONIC PAIN might be the person telling you “I’m in pain” and little more than that.  So, in other words, you have no way of knowing how much pain another person is experiencing.  So don’t think that you do, don’t tell them you do, and certainly don’t tell them that their pain is not that bad… unless you really are an insensitive ass.  Just because you don’t think that someone looks like they are  in pain doesn’t mean that they aren’t.  We don’t want to hear stories about your pain, we do not want you to tell us what we should be doing because we must be doing something wrong.   What does being in pain look like?  What do I have to look like for you to believe me? I can do that, but isn’t it better that I just pull myself together the best that I can & carry on with my life?  People with chronic pain have to do that or they either become addicted to pain pills or whither & die.

So what can you do?  What can you say? When someone is talking about their pain believe them, really that’s all.   Offer a little understanding, a kind gesture, an ear.  People who are suffering want to know that they are being heard.  Don’t assume that when someone is sharing their feelings they are asking you for a solution… if they want one they will ask.  Nor are they asking for your sympathy, but perhaps a little empathy would be nice.

I believe that there is an end in sight to my pain.  Others suffer a lifetime of pain & I am grateful that I will not be one of them.  I feel for them & what they must go through everyday, possibly feeling alone & misunderstood, judged.  I am also grateful to have my art which helps me get through times of great pain, loneliness, and sadness.  How lucky I am.

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  1. katdazzle on March 31, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    Perhaps great art comes from the depths of great pain? Look at Frida’s face, wait a minute- look at those eyebrows! They are eyebrows of a great artist. Perhaps great art comes from great eyebrows- yeah that’s it.

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