Often, people like me with chronic pain issues like to put on the brave façade and try to push themselves through each day, thinking they are making themselves stronger for suffering through it all. Are you kidding me? Who is going to pat you on the back at tell you what a great martyr you have been at the end of each day? No one! Someone told me one – “if you don’t care for yourself, no one else will.” This is the absolute truth.
For example, I went back to college to get what I though was going to be a Master’s degree. Due to some logistical errors and blatant lies by administration, I ended up with nothing but another Bachelor’s degree. Had I been a bit more self-empowered, and had a few less surgeries, I would have walked out of that university with the Master’s degree – but that is another story.
I went back to university after my third back surgery. Sure, sitting in those wooden, auditorium seats was just what my back needed for a speedy recovery, but it was the drive to do what I had always wanted to do that got me there and kept me there. I soon learned that my chronic pain (first migraines, then, nerve damage in my back) interfered with my ability to focus in class, to recall material for tests, to study effectively, and to just plain sit still in class. I had heard about a program for disabled students that allowed them extra time to take tests, to study in special groups, and to record class sessions – but I wasn’t disabled! I just couldn’t sit in a classroom without being in excruciating pain and/or discomfort. After struggling through a test in that I could not complete as sitting in the same position for 50 minutes without tears was nigh impossible, I sheepishly stopped in the student disability center to find out exactly what was athe university’s definition of “disability.”
Pride swallowed, and two weeks later after two notes from my back surgeon and my neurologist were faxed into the disability center, I had the distinctive advantage of being a disabled student. Again, my disability was invisible to most – those that knew me well could see the differences in my eyes and skin color when I was having a severe migraine, or notice how my left leg turned inwards when I was experiencing lack of control of the nerves in that leg.
I did not take advantage of this gift of “disability,” but I used it wisely to the got the extra time I needed on tests, the ability to take tests in a quiet place away from the rest of the class, and to take part in special study groups. However, the most empowering gift endowed upon us disabled folks was the ability to report those professors who scoffed at “people like me,” chided us in front of the whole class, about how we were slackers looking for a handout, and made jokes about how we were allegedly taking advantage of the system.
Sometimes coping mean using the strength to admit to yourself that you need and deserve the extra help, and not just gritting your teeth and suffering through the pain.