The Importance of Awareness

By Jennifer Martin, Columnist

The other day I was made aware of a malicious Facebook post that was written about an acquaintance who was making others aware that it was World IBD Day.  She was simply educating others about inflammatory bowel disease and the difficulties that arise from having such a condition. 

The Facebook poster declared how tired he was of people posting about their diseases and trying to gain pity from others. 

The day before, another poster with a J-pouch due to ulcerative colitis mentioned that while she was leaving the bathroom a woman told her that she should use a private bathroom because what she was doing was disgusting. 

Not long before this, a chronic pain patient of mine told me she received a dirty look from someone in a grocery store parking lot because she parked in a handicap parking space, even though her handicap placard was hanging clearly from her rear-view mirror.

The same day, another patient told me that he doesn’t feel like his doctor hears him when he tells him how much pain he is in.

Unfortunately, this kind of misunderstanding and ignorance happens all of the time. People with invisible chronic pain or chronic illnesses are often the recipients of hurtful words or spiteful looks from people with have no clue what they are going through on the inside.

This is why awareness is so important. About half of all American adults -- 117 million people --have one or more chronic health conditions, yet many of us are still largely misunderstood.  We may be feeling awful, but typically we look fine from the outside. 

Many people think chronic pain patients are addicts who just want drugs.  Some who don’t understand Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS/RSD) think it’s a psychological problem.  And others believe that fibromyalgia isn’t real and that patients only want sympathy.

It is important for people to have a better understanding of what we’re going through so that the stigmas, hurtful words, and malevolent looks begin to fade.  That cannot happen if we remain silent.

May is a big awareness month for chronic pain and chronic illness:

Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Awareness Day was May 12.

World IBD day was May 19.

World MS day is May 27.

May is also Arthritis Awareness month.

So keep wearing those awareness t-shirts -- and keep blogging, educating, and posting.  Will it help?  I am hopeful.

Jennifer Martin, PsyD, is a licensed psychologist in Newport Beach, California who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and ulcerative colitis. In her blog “Your Color Looks Good” Jennifer writes about the psychological aspects of dealing with chronic pain and illness. 

Jennifer is a professional member of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America and has a Facebook page dedicated to providing support and information to people with Crohn’s, Colitis and Digestive Diseases, as well as other types of chronic pain.

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