Back in my college radio days, there was a band called The Judybats that my friends and I loved. Every time they came to town, we were there – partly because we loved them and probably partly because I fancied the bass player, just a little bit. One of their songs was called, “Pain Makes You Beautiful”.
This song has been playing in my head for the last couple weeks. I’ve mentioned before that I deal with chronic pain issues but quite honestly, I don’t let that define who I am. Most the time, I can manage the pain and very few are the wiser as to what I am dealing with. But for some reason, February usually wreaks havoc with my body and this year seems to be no exception.
And so that song is on a constantly loop in my brain. But here’s the thing. Pain doesn’t make you beautiful.
Pain makes you cranky – that irritating relative who overstays her welcome with whom subtle hints to take a hike don’t work. It can make you feel less and left behind, when you can’t do everything your friends’ are doing or when you need to cancel plans to take care of yourself. (Side note: real friends who love you? They get it.)
It makes you reevaluate your day. It makes you tentative. What can I do? What shouldn’t I do? What will lessen it? What will increase it? If I walk over there, I might slip on the ice. But if I go over there, I have to walk through the snow and fall.
Pain makes you exhausted. Your sleep is obviously impacted but there is another, often overlooked and misunderstood component. Interestingly, people with chronic pain conditions often don’t present with the same symptoms another might in the doctor’s office: high blood pressure, increased pulse rate, etc. Instead, because pain is a consistent state, the body works exceptionally hard to maintain stasis. I can’t tell you how often I’ve gone to the doctor for a pain issue and she’s been amazed by my blood pressure (which can also make them think you are drug seeking but that is an entirely different story.) Mustering the energy to get through the day can be a challenge. Quite honestly, all I have wanted to do lately is eat fattening foods and laze around (and for the most part, that’s been my default.)
The list of what pain does to you physically, psychologically, emotionally, and even spiritually can go on and on. But from my perspective, there is more than one way to look at pain:
It can make you creative. Activities you take for granted when your pain is managed need workarounds when it’s not and, for some tasks, you need to be very creative and find what works without significantly increasing pain. It makes you try things you’ve never tried before – for me, that’s been vitamins and supplements, and different types of exercise. I’ve got a million tricks in my arsenal these days.
Pain, especially chronic pain, can make you empathetic. When someone tells me their back went out or they hurt themselves some other way, I understand in a way others might not. And I can readily share my resources and workarounds. I can share my experience and my thoughts on pain. Everyone’s situation is different but I like to hope that my experience and attitude can impact others positively.
But most of all, it can make you strong. It can make you resilient. I believe that each day you get through, fighting an invisible foe that no one else sees (and that some don’t believe exists), is a good day – proving that you are more than your diagnosis, that you are so much more than your pain.
*And before you jump down my throat: Yes, I realize that there are different kinds of pain. I get that everyone is different. I understand that everyone experiences pain differently and has different ways of coping; my intent is not to minimize that for anyone but instead to present my story and hope that serves as encouragement for someone who is struggling today.