For those of you who do not know chronic pain, you may not understand the value of those three words to me: I see it. But I bet in some way, you can feel the value of those words. We all just want to be seen. To have someone acknowledge that things are hard, and that they see your struggle.
I have had back issues my whole life. But up until my later 30s, the impact these issues had on my life were relatively minor. I had several back surgeries when I was a young child, and even a few as a teen and young adult, but I made it my mission to exceed expectations and do everything that anyone else could do, hopefully for longer, faster, and better. I had two kids I was told were impossible, I worked 12 hours days pretty often, and spent lots of time with family and friends.
Then in the summer of 2012 I had a fall on ice that took a toll on the body I had probably pushed a little to far on a regular basis. Two surgeries and countless hours of physical therapy and doctors appointments later, I was told this is probably as good as it gets.
If you don’t have chronic pain, or have a close friend or family member that does, you may not understand what this looks like. It is hours and hours alone. It is late at nights awake in the dark because you can’t get comfortable, just waiting until it is a reasonable time, or until your spouse gets up, to watch TV. It is refreshing your Facebook feed to see if there was anything new added, and there isn’t because everyone on your friends list is sleeping. It is laying in bed looking at all the fun things everyone is doing without you. It is complete isolation as even your family is going on with life. And you want them to, you just wish you could join them. Life goes on whether you are able to get out of bed or not.
When you have chronic back pain, you need to schedule your day in blocks. You do one simple chore and then need to rest. You get way less done in a day than you used to. What once took a day, now needs to be broken up into several, and still may not actually be completed. There are the jobs you used to do easily, like sweeping, mopping, and picking up the floor that are simply no longer possible at all.
Planning anything is way harder than it used to be. Before chronic pain I could schedule adventures with my kids, girl’s days with the besties, and even things like school conference based on openings in the schedule. Now I need to take the weather into account because rain, snow, cold, and drastic temperature changes often make going somewhere extremely painful or impossible. If the event is anything over an hour or two, or if the weather is less than ideal, a day is needed in advance to prepare, and at least a day, if not more, off after the event to recover. Being forced to rest is very different than choosing to rest.
When you go to events, meetings, etc you put on a mask. When you’re children are around, you put on a mask so that their life is about them, not about you. When someone asks how you are, you respond with the standard fine, because most people don’t really want to know. They are just trying to be polite.
This all may seem very negative. But I’m not trying to be negative, I’m being real. The world of chronic pain can be a long lonely journey. But you know what? A simple statement can be a game changer. A word from someone who just gets it.
I am very fortunate to have several friends that get it, at various levels. I was venting to one of my friends through text, and a simple text message touched my heart. It said in part, “I know you’re in pain every second of the day. I see it.” So simple. But so much validation. It’s what everyone wants, to have someone acknowledge their struggles.
I don’t need answers, or solutions. I didn’t even know what I needed until I heard it. I see it. Three words with so much power. These words show empathy, kindness, respect, and support. It is invaluable to have someone show that they understand, acknowledge, and feel your pain. That you are not alone. Please take a moment to show this kindness to others. Don’t rush to fix it, just be there for them and tell them, “I see it” or “I see you”. The difference you will make in someone’s life is more than you could ever imagine.