Painful Hope

The masked 71-year-old checker at Walmart smiled. I could tell by her eyes, sparkling and attractive with years of happy lines. “Two hours to go!” she announced to me. I told her with a smile in-kind that I hoped it would go quickly. She chuckled and said, “Oh, no matter. I’m happy. I could stand here all day!” I gave her a look of awe and encouraged her to count her blessings. If I stand for more than 5 minutes my back hurts and my left leg and both feet go numb. “You’re too young for that!” she said with compassion. That’s how I found that she was more than a decade older than I.

Such is life with a chronic pain condition. It is genetic; my paternal grandmother’s hands rivaled the old witch handing Snow White the poison apple. Heberden nodes deform finger and toe joints in osteoarthritis. Grandma waddled and grunted when getting up from a chair, and I walk hunched over when it’s bad. Growing up as a pretty good athlete, hitting 500 in softball, taking on the toughest horses no one else wanted to ride, and running tough hills in races came easily for me. But now I’ve sold the horses, given up even the golf clubs and I’m relegated to feeling accomplished with a 0.5 to 1 mile walk in the mornings. Life throws some tough curve-balls.

People with chronic pain can relate. I write this not to whine or complain; rather, to offer support to those who suffer. There are many who have worse pain than I have. A few years ago I joined a Facebook group for people with arthritis. I was pretty blown away at the community and little sub-communities that existed for folk who typically become very isolated and who develop anxiety and other comorbidities (other concurrent medical problems). I saw a beautiful example of the good that can come from social media!

If you suffer from chronic pain or from any medical condition, do consider searching social media or your local community for support groups. When I worked on my master’s degree I researched chronic pain management centers. I found that studies showed decreased pain in those patients who felt connected to others. Some had good friends who maintained contact, some had a daily coffee at McDonalds, and some participated in book clubs, whether in person or online. I also learned that those who moved, even just a little each day, even just stretches in bed if bedridden, or the little walks I manage, reported decreases in pain, depression and anxiety. My octogenarian friend listens to her favorite music, meditates, or phones her friends when she needs distraction. She is still practicing as a therapist and continues to see clients. She advocates grief work with someone who understands pain.

There is hope. You are not alone, and I pray for you as I write this.