A Pained Life: We Are Survivors

By Carol Levy, Columnist

So many shows on TV celebrate "survivors" -- survivors of cancer and abuse are the most recent examples I have seen.

But those of us with chronic pain are never celebrated. Instead we are ignored, or worse, excoriated as being the cause of the "painkiller epidemic.”

60 Minutes recently did a story entitled "Heroin in the Heartland." In it, those who are prescribed opioid pain medications and their doctors are portrayed as pied pipers to the world of heroin.

The story was not about those who legitimately need, are prescribed, and sensibly use narcotic medications to tame their pain. Even a cursory sentence to negate the stereotype would have been gladly received.

We who live in chronic pain most often seem to be the “fall guy” for the ills of the world, at least when it comes to the use of opiates, both legal and illegal. To the media and maybe the world, we are not survivors, not under their definition: someone who overcomes a serious illness or situation.

After all, we have not “overcome.” We can't overcome, because our struggle is ongoing, every day, for some of us, every minute, every hour; fighting pain and often disability. Even on a good day, for many of us the fight is ever present; the fear of when it will return being in the forefront of all we do and think.

This is how the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines survivor:

1:  to remain alive after the death of : <he is survived by his wife>

2:  to continue to exist or live after : <survived the earthquake>

3:  to continue to function or prosper despite :  <they survived many hardships>

How does that not define us?

We continue every single day, doggedly putting one foot in front of the other. The more able among us continue to work, raise a family, and be an integral part of the community, despite being in severe pain. The amount of stamina, perseverance and strength that takes would take many an ordinary person down and out.

Others of us have pain so severe, so debilitating, that merely being able to go outside, to get to the store, for some even being able to get out of bed, is a Herculean task. And yet, we do it.

It can be hard for us to see and acknowledge this monumental task we succeed at each and every day, merely by getting through each day. We work so hard at the struggle and it becomes so second nature, that it is often invisible to us, just as our pain is invisible to the world. After all, if no one sees the pain, how can they see or understand the struggle?

So how do you define a survivor?

It is easy. Just look in the mirror.

Carol Jay Levy has lived with trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic facial pain disorder, for over 30 years. She is the author of “A Pained Life, A Chronic Pain Journey.” 

Carol is the moderator of the Facebook support group “Women in Pain Awareness.” Her blog “The Pained Life” can be found here.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.