One thing I starting noticing once I had chronic pain was the images used to depict pain. I noticed what images were commonly used to show pain, and what images weren’t.
You’ll see images of the nervous system and of people (both cartoons and real) curled up, tensed up, screaming, crying.
I’m not saying these images don’t depict pain. They do and the photographers capture this pain, physical and emotional, in a beautifully raw way.
However, most of the images are of people alone. Some of the images have few clothes on.
Yes, pain is a personal experience. Yes, pain is an unpleasant experience. Yes, pain is a vulnerable experience.
You don’t often see images of people in pain with other people though. And if you do it is usually an unidentified hand, or in a healthcare setting.
You don’t often see images of people in pain doing activities or out and about.
I believe this depiction is one factor that contributes to the invisibility of chronic pain. Real people with chronic pain don’t look like the people in images of “pain” so they must not have real pain. I don’t look like the people in images of “pain” so I must not have real pain.
I have real pain here:
I’m out and about here. Before this photo was taken I’d been on a walk with my husband and his parents while we were on holiday. I was sore and tired and needed a rest. That’s what we’re doing here. Resting (my husband calls it Hazel-management) before continuing on with the rest of our day. I’m living my life.
I have pain here:
I’m doing my job here. This is me introducing a speaker.
Sometimes I get a bit stubborn and still try to do the things I love when the pain is worse than usual. Then it’s a bit more noticeable that something’s not right.
One in six people in New Zealand have chronic pain. That’s around 800,000 people. Most of the time we’re not living as depicted in images of “pain”.
People can live a full life with chronic pain. I live a full life with chronic pain. My life is different than it would be if I didn’t have chronic pain but not lesser. I don’t think about my pain every hour of the day.
I do often need help. My husband helps me, my parents support me, my friends are there for me. I have flexibility at work. I have had lots of professional healthcare support to develop pain management strategies that work for me. I take medication.
With this support I am able to be me. To do the things that bring me joy – spending time with my people, learning, reading, attending music and science events. With this support I am able to be a good wife, family member, and friend, and to contribute to my fullest ability at my job.
If chronic pain was a little less invisible, then my journey to get to where I am now might have been easier.