A Pained Life: The Shared Experience

By Carol Levy, Columnist

I'm watching TV. An ad for an eczema drug comes on.

“Sorry, I can’t make it,” a woman says to the person on the other end of a phone call. “It’s just my eczema again. But its fine.”

Later a co-worker asks, “Are you okay?”

As she scratches at her arm, she replies “Eczema. Its fine.”

The commercial is on a lot. Every single time I hear it, I get annoyed and then angry. You're itchy and have a patch or two of dry skin?  So what? It’s not the pain of CRPS or trigeminal neuralgia or another horribly painful condition. Big deal.

Then I catch myself.

I have a small area on my back, about the size of a quarter, right in the unreachable spot. It itches horribly. Sometimes it lasts for a short while, sometimes for days or even weeks. The doc has a name for it, notalgia paresthesia, but naming it is of no help.

There is not much to be done for it. I rub against the door jam, brush it hard with a hairbrush, put on all kinds of salves and ointments. Even the numbing meds don't help.

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What if I had this itch in a lot of places on my body? What if I couldn't control not just one area on my back but a bunch of them? It would be unendurable.

I think of all the times I ask myself, the many times so many of us ask: “Why do other people have such a hard time understanding and accepting my pain? What if they could feel it, even if only for a minute?”

It's a good question. It begs an answer. But let's face it. It is unanswerable. Even the cliché “If you could walk in my shoes” never gets us anywhere.

Maybe there is another way. Not the theoretical, but the experiential.

What if we said: “Remember the pain when you broke your arm (or were injured or ill and in pain), how horrible that was? Imagine that pain being with you all the time. Imagine instead of a cast and some pills, there is no way to tame it, no way to know if the pain will ever go away or at least get better?”

Everyone at one time or another has been in our shoes, even if only for a snapshot in time. The shared experience is the cement for so much of life. A reminder of their time in pain time might be the foundation on which acceptance can be built.

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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.