Pain taught me the importance of loving myself.
by Mary Byrne Eigel
Those who have endured long-term pain know how difficult it is to accurately describe the depth of the experience. Pounding hammers, sudden lightning strikes and freshly lit fires are images I recall resonating inside my hips and back.
I traveled more than half my life with chronic pain from hip dysplasia. I struggled to walk long distances or run as fast as my friends. My parents would never talk to me about my pain. Their world taught, “Silence is golden.” Not talking meant maybe it did not really exist. It was a wall between us.
As a society we have a tough time conversing about pain. The 1-10 smiley face pain chart presented to you when visiting a medical professional is a prime example. Through the years I often thought, “Is a number all you want to know about my pain?” I can’t tell you about how it dictates what I can and can’t do? I can’t tell you how it erodes my self-esteem? I can’t tell you how it robs my energy and shortens my temper?
Thankfully, I am at a place in my life where I now see what my often unbearable, unrelenting pain taught me and how different my life may have been if my pain had not been present.
Pain urged me to find a profession where I could sit instead of stand. It gave me the courage to refine my skills as an artist and go beyond being an art educator.
Pain required the strength of a warrior to endure but encouraged an open heart that did not harden in response to it. It taught me to face life with open hands rather than with closed fists. It made me a more spiritual person.
Pain taught me there is no shame in being different. It allowed me to see we are all unique individuals with different ways we need to journey through life. It pointed out the need to challenge the status quo when it presents obstacles. It reminded me there is nothing wrong with needing things others may not require. Elevators in buildings are the result of compromised people expressing their concerns.
Pain opened my eyes and made me reconsider what I believed. It gave me a chance to examine the mask I had allowed my ego to construct. There were many things I thought I “should” do. Pain slowly softened these thoughts and revealed what was essential and what is not. It taught me the virtues of being able to find compromise.
Pain taught me the importance of loving myself. It showed me the value of setting boundaries between what I do for others and what I do for myself.
Pain provided me a way to grow and expand as a person. It encouraged humility and gratitude. I learned the value of both self reliance and reliance on others. It taught me the value of good friends, the beauty of small things and precious moments.
Pain has its gifts, but a gift that pain patients deserve is acknowledgement and access to the best resources available. Current scientific research is discovering objective ways of measuring pain. The Internet offers a wealth of information and tools for non-traditional pain management.
May these combined efforts open more doors and lead to more informed purposeful conversations between pain patients and those who manage pain.
Mary Byrne Eigel is an artist, writer, educator and pain management advocate. Her book, Silent Courage, chronicles her journey of chronic pain and healing. Learn more about Mary at marybyrneeigel.com.