On Telling Our Chronic Pain Stories

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As I begin to write pieces of my own chronic pain story, I find myself contemplating that common human need to be known and understood. Living the last few years as a chronic pain sufferer, one of the most difficult aspects of this struggle has been knowing how to wisely share my story with others.

Perhaps more than anything else, I become angry when I am misunderstood. When people doubt me, misconstrue what I am saying, or see me as other than I am, I am deeply hurt to my inner core, just longing to be known and desiring to improve my ability to connect and express. This, I believe, explains my fear of speaking my story, unless I can be sure that my words are clear. And to some extent, all stories of pain and hurt, tales of suffering and sickness, are told because there is a need to be understood.

When the pain doesn’t go away, it must at least be heard and acknowledged, documented and detailed, and there is great peace when someone simply says, “I recognize your pain.” 

Pain is desperate to be heard; it longs to be known by someone other than the one who experiences it. Describing pain and talking about illness are no easy tasks, requiring both the willingness and vulnerability of the speaker and the empathy and respect of the listener. And perhaps these two barriers are why pain-sufferers so often bear their burden in silence. Too often betrayed by those who listen, the speaker becomes silent, burrows inward, and begins to see isolation as a safe haven, and certainly a safer location than vulnerability. This betrayal is ever so subtle – a turning away of the eyes in misunderstanding, a shortening of conversation in a hurry to return to important tasks, a moving on to others who are more able, perhaps even a complete disregard for difficult experiences.

Living in pain is a lonely and isolated battle. It longs for an elusive companionship not often offered. And so, the first step for those who bear pain is to find a kindred spirit, a soulful listener, who will offer up time and sacrifice personal comfort to hear another’s uncensored story of pain. In speaking pain stories, hiding the truth is easier more often than not. As chronic pain sufferers we also hold much responsibility for the lack of interest in our stories. A dismissive, “I’m fine” to a stranger, or the repetitive complaining of “I hurt so badly” to a family member are often the only words that come. And this manner of speaking becomes a pattern so ingrained that we forget to speak the truth.

The truth of our stories is that pain cuts to the core of our being, the center of our identity, and the depths of our soul. The truth is that we are not fine, and our sometimes ceaseless complaints of pain are only outward symbols of a much deeper and weighty meaning. A story well-told does not dismiss or gloss over the truth, and neither does it engage in repetitive complaints. Rather it is told once, or twice, in glorious depth and detail, in such a manner that it is remembered and need not be repeated. For now the listener knows and need only be kept informed as the story progresses, changes, and continues.

Telling our stories is part of the Christian life; I believe it is an aspect of sharing our burdens with one another. But in this sharing of burdens, there is so much potential for misinterpretation, bitterness, and holding back the whole truth. And so we must learn what it means to be good storytellers and good storylisteners as we walk alongside those in similar and un-similar battles.

11 Comments

  1. May I reblog this? If so, would you mind telling me how to do that? 🙂

    I cannot thank you enough for sharing this! So very true! Joni Eareckson Tada is a great example of this. I get so much more comfort from those who ENDURE sometimes. So excited to read more on your blog!

    1. Of course, I would be honored! There is a reblog butten at the bottom of the post, right next to the “like” button.

      I absolutely love Joni Eareckson Tada. Her book Islands of Healing was absolutely amazing, and probably one of the most practical and encouraging books I have ever read in terms of thinking through pain and suffering biblically. I’m so glad you stopped by!

  2. Reblogged this on Fighting Fire with Fire and commented:
    This is why, when people tell me I must have more faith to be healed or that healing (before heaven comes) is definitively what God plans for my life, I think….

    Thank you, Life In Slow Motion, for allowing me to Reblog your eloquent thoughts.

  3. Haha, I meant to reblog “the extraordinary triumphs of a select few” but I’m glad I reblogged this one first. You write so well and I have a lot to learn from your perspective. It can be difficult to “bring God into” our pain, even though He’s already been and IS there. I love how you connect it all together.

  4. Chronic pain has been a companion for 25 years. How well you describe the need for others to know yet my not telling my story for fear of several things. I was always afraid to put my daily life into words for that would make it real. I felt guilty that somehow I had brought it on myself and embarrassed that I had not thrown it off as quickly as I had “brought it on.” And who would believe the intensity of the pain and it’s relentlessness? Who could understand that there was not one comfortable position in all the options of sitting, standing, and lying? Surely, people would think I was exaggerating.

    I didn’t know this disabled person I’d become since I had always been the care taker, the soother, the open and patient ear. I could not bring myself to use the “d” words and refused to get a “Disabled License Plate” even though there were times when I would get to, say, the pharmacy, and could not make the walk from the non-handicapped parking space to the door. And on several occasions when I didi make it inside the store, I was in too much pain to walk back to the pharmacy counter.

    It wasn’t until about 5 or so years after the onset of the pain that I finally gave in and sadly accepted the Disabled Plates. My condition now was graven in government issue metal.

    Though I could go on, I have written enough. Thank you, for this important message.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing. I can relate with so much of what you have said – the guilt, embarrassment, fearing whether people would believe me, etc… In some ways, you could say this post is somewhat hypocritical, as my blog is anonymous 🙂 The first step for me has been sharing my chronic pain stories with strangers. Maybe some day I will get to the point of being brave enough to share with my family, closest friends, and even acquaintances. I have so much hesitance with that – part of me does not want them to know the real me. Will they think I am complaining and looking for pity? How will it change their view of me? That same question of will they think I am exaggerating since I look so normal in real life? So many questions and so much fear holding me back.

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