We Are More Than Our Pain

By Carol Levy, PNN Columnist

I was referred to a neurologist who specializes in headaches. Trigeminal neuralgia is very different from a headache, but any port in a storm. I called to make an appointment and was told all new patients must agree to meet with a psychologist. If you refuse, you do not get the appointment.

This seemed like an inherent bias: Patients with head pain must have psychological issues. Does this mean the doctors are prejudging the truthfulness of their pain complaints?

Despite misgivings about seeing a psychologist, I made the appointment.

A few weeks later, the neurologist admitted me into the headache unit of the local hospital. Everyone in the unit had to have a one-on-one meeting with the psychologist.

“Tell me about your life,” she said.

I told her the most salient fact: “I am essentially alone in the world. My family abandoned me decades ago. And when you don’t work it is hard to make friends.”

Her suggestion: “You should go to counseling. They can teach you how to make friends.”

Well, there's a good idea. Except...

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Before the pain started, I had no trouble making friends. Since the pain is a different story. Trying to make friends is hard when you don’t have the glue necessary to start a new relationship. I never married and I never had children because the pain took that part of my life away from me.

At my age, a senior citizen, that is often the opening question when you meet new people: “Are you married?” or “How many grandkids do you have?” No and none.

“Do you work? Are you still working?” Again, no. I haven't worked in over 40 years because of the pain.

If I am honest and say, “No to all of those. I have been disabled by a pain disorder since 1976,” the response tends to be a mouth falling open, followed by “Oh, I'm sorry.” Or a somewhat glazed look and a turn away to speak with someone else.

How do you overcome this? I haven't a clue.

But it started me thinking. When, if ever, did any of my doctors ask, “How are you dealing with this?”

I see this often mentioned in support groups: “My doctor never seems to have the time or the interest to find out about me, about how this is affecting my life.”

I am not sure if they don't ask because they don’t care or because it is something they can’t treat with a pill. Maybe they are afraid of hearing the truth for too many of us: “I'm not dealing well with it.”

Isn't part of being a healer taking the whole person into account? Doctors have precious little time to spend with us. Maybe they should take a few extra minutes to learn about the essence of who we are and what the pain has done to our basic core.

There is no medicine or surgery for the effect the pain has on our lives. But being able to say, especially to our doctors, what it has taken from us could help others see us as something more than our pain.  

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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.