Teresa_ShafferI was diagnosed in my very early 20’s with a progressive form of Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD). I deal with my pain in a way that allows me to live my life as normally as possible. I have raised three wonderful daughters and served as the primary caregiver to both in-laws for years. The only help I had occurred over the weekends, when their only son (my husband) returned home from working out of state each week.

I am no different than a person that does not live with pain. I have the same wants, needs, desires and dreams.  So I ask you, “Why do I feel that others who do not live with pain look at me as if I am different from them?”

Is this a figment of my imagination? I do not agree. I have lost many friends over the years because I could not attend gatherings or social events. It wasn’t always that my pain was keeping me away. Sometimes, it was just life that prevented me from joining others:  a sick child or a prior commitment.

When I asked them why they chose to move on, the answer seemed to be the same, “We did not want you to feel obligated to join in because of you are in pain.”

Say what?

These are my questions. How do I show people that I am no different than them? How do I explain that just because I live with pain it does not make me want to quit enjoying my live, such as going out with friends? I have never been one who starts a discussion about my pain or my health. I always figured there was nothing my friends could do to change my situation so why make it the topic of discussion. There is so much more to me than just being a person in pain.

I am a daughter, sister, mother, aunt, grandma to name a few. I am an advocate for those living with pain. I volunteer, serve on committees and talk to policy makers and the media. I love to help people.

Why don’t others see me as I really am? Why is the fact I am a person living pain the first and only thing others focus on? How do I show them there is so much more to me than my pain? Are you struggling with this too?

Here is what I do. I stand tall and show people that just because I live with pain, I have a full life and can contribute to the world around me. When I meet someone new and we exchange introductions, I never begin the conversation with “I live with pain”. I begin with “I am a volunteer and advocate”. As the conversation continues, at some point if it is appropriate, I share that I am a person living with pain. When I do, I make sure to spin the discussion as just what life handed me and I deal with it and move forward. My pain condition is no different than someone else who may be living with a chronic illness, like high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity or cancer.

So here is my suggestion. The next time you find yourself meeting someone new and introducing yourself. Don’t begin talking about your life with pain. First, show them you are much, much more than that. Talk about your accomplishments, your work (paid and/or volunteer), your family or your hobbies. Share the fullness of your life. Stand tall and stand strong. You are more than your pain condition. Be proud. You are a unique human being with dreams, desires and talents. Show them that your pain does not define who you are.

Look closely. You are more than your pain.

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