Many books about pain and illness focus almost exclusively on extraordinary stories of individuals who defeated the odds in their particular battle. Scattered throughout self-help books, uplifting memoirs, and pain literature are tales and accounts of individuals who found some breakthrough that revolutionized their lives, or who came to a sudden realization that fixed their problem. Perhaps they explain that acupuncture saved them. Or maybe it was a special diet. Some form of exercise, vitamin, nutrient, meditation, or medical treatment brought them out of their pit of despair. And I enjoy these stories. They are compelling, they give me hope and push me forward, and I share an incredible happiness and joy with those who have stepped into a better place.
But I think these stories are a double-edged sword. These stories of amazing people defeating the odds are always inspiring, but oftentimes doubly frustrating. Because these stories are not the norm.
For every story of breakthrough are 100 stories of perseverance in the midst of continued trial. Yes, I want to know that other people have defeated the odds because it gives me hope. But at the end, I am left wondering about ordinary old me, and whether anyone else is fighting this continual battle. Sometimes those stories are just darn frustrating because you begin to feel as though it is your fault that you have not found that extraordinarily simple and straightforward cure like all these books suggest.
I may be a realist, but most people will not find that life-changing, instant cure. The stories I am considering are of people who must persevere for a lifetime, with progress occurring over years and decades, not over weeks or months. And because of this, I find much more encouragement in stories of the mundane and stories of daily resolve than these extraordinary stories of a select few.
It is our human tendency to feel as though we are alone in our trials, and we begin to think that no one else is fighting this same battle. This is a lie, and when only stories of breakthrough and triumph are aired to the world, this lie becomes deeply ingrained into our societal understanding of pain. We begin to think that medicine, presented in its many forms, holds an answer to our pain, when for many people, this is not the case.
I can much better relate to the stories of the mundane than stories of the extraordinary. Stories of perseverance hold more meaning to me than the stories of breakthroughs I so much desire. And, I’m not suggesting these extraordinary stories should not be told, but I am suggested that these extraordinary stories should not be told in a way that blocks out the ordinary stories and causes them not to be heard. The extraordinary stories are told for entertainment and because they shock and delight and make us feel good. But, the ordinary stories, the ones of years of unrelenting pain and suffering, are often left untold, told to an empty room, or written on a blank sheet of paper.
Follow the links below to read previous articles in this series on telling our chronic pains stories.