When Your Chronic Pain is Better But Not Better

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How am I doing? I think the easiest way to describe this is to say that I am better, but not better, if you know what I mean.

I did a quick search of the definition of the word better. It explains the dilemma of terming any chronic health problem as “better.”

The first two definitions that came up in a google search were as follows:

  1. Comparative of good and well
  2. Partly or fully recovered from illness, injury, or mental stress; less unwell

In my case, I would not say that definition number 1 applies. I would say that only part of definition number 2 applies in that I am “less unwell” than I was better. I am not comparative of good and well and I am not fully recovered, but I am partly better or less unwell than I was before.

It seems that when we say we are “better,” people tend to assume we mean the first definition or that we are fully recovered, instead of just less unwell than a few months ago.

This is how I might explain it accurately to someone in a conversation:  I am doing so much better than before. I am able to go to work without feeling like I might die. I am doing the best that I have done in over a year. BUT. I am functioning at about 25% of my full healthy capacity. I still lay down for huge portions of the day. I still can’t walk more than 8 minutes without paying for it big time. And that means I have a long way to go before I could ever call myself “better” in the sense that most people think of as better.

But, let’s be honest. Making that distinction in everyday conversations is confusing, and most people don’t listen long enough for that explanation to be possible. The language that we use to communicate our chronic pain in daily conversations is important. Just a small shift in the way we speak about our pain goes miles in helping people understand the reality of chronic pain. For my current situation, somehow I want to communicate elation that I am doing so much better, but at the same time convey that that doesn’t mean life is easy. It’s hard, which just happens to be a few miles in the right direction compared to where I was before.

This middle place is hard to communicate. This place where I am so excited and thrilled to not be drowning, but I am still constantly treading water. And I think that when we start to tell people that we are doing better, they start to assume it isn’t hard anymore. Health on a continuum is a concept that you don’t really think about until you struggle with health conditions that are chronic. Health conditions that are always there, it is just a matter of their severity at any given time.

I am beyond thankful for the additional things I have been able to add into my life. Thankful for a few extra hours at work. Thankful for coffee with friends and the occasional dinner out. Thankful for short strolls around the apartment and going to work without feeling like I might collapse before I make it home.

But I’m still tired. I’m still in pain. In one sense life hasn’t become much easier, it has just become fuller, which is a wonderful, wonderful thing and something I do not take for granted, but in the end I just start filling the new places of progress with the things in life I have been leaving behind for so long. Things like my first hair cut in over a year and that dentist appointment I desperately need to schedule. Things like making meals that are actually edible and doing my laundry somewhat on time and having a semi-clean kitchen half of the time instead of never.

And in the back of my mind is the fact that I may not be better for long.Who knows how long it will last? Which is also a hard thing to explain. So sometimes, instead of constantly explaining where I am on the continuum, it’s just easier to not say anything at all except to the closest people in my life.

I’m better, but I’m not better.

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