When you’re explaining chronic pain to someone who is not familiar with what it’s like, it may be natural to talk about what chronic pain involves, or how it affects your day-to-day life. While these strategies can certainly be effective, sometimes it’s also helpful to define chronic pain by explaining what it’s not. After all, there are so many common misconceptions about the chronic pain experience; busting these myths can be a great way to promote better understanding of pain conditions.
Mighty contributor Rachel K. recently shared an article called 10 Things Chronic Fatigue Is Not, in which she challenges some of the most common myths about chronic fatigue to help raise awareness of what it’s really like. We wanted to do the same for one of the most symptoms those with chronic illness experience, so we asked ourMighty community to tell us what chronic pain is not. Check out how they finished the statement below, and let us know in the comments if there’s anything you would add.
Chronic pain is not…
1. …a choice.
“Chronic pain is not our choice! We would rather be healthy and doing all the activities that people without pain do. We never asked to live a life being limited and withdrawn. But chronic pain steals the life we want and used to have.” – Letia N.
“Chronic pain is not a club that one magically and willingly waltzes into.” – Kat H.
“Chronic pain is not a decision. It’s not a choice I make to ‘get out of things.’ I can’t just turn it off.” – Liv S.
2. …”all in your head.”
“In my head!” – Raven D.
“Psychosomatic… part of it is regionally located in my head, but not all of it. We have enough conflicted thoughts and guilt about it without others piling more on.” – Lucas B.
“Chronic pain is not imagined!!” – Andrea F.
“Chronic pain is not ‘all in our head’… and even if it were, that does not mean that it hurts any less. Have compassion – this affects the sufferer’s whole life.” – Stacey B.
3. …the same as acute pain.
“Chronic pain is not acute pain. It’s controlling every single thing that you do. It’s good days and bad days, often with more good than bad. It’s countless doctors, being injected with all types of steroids and radiation in search of any type of relief.” – Liz Ann T.
“It is not going to be magically cured by the things that worked for your friend/aunt/grandmother/coworker/obscure guru who had the same symptoms acutely. Chronic is completely different from acute, and cannot be cured. We are lucky if it can be managed.” – CeCe JM H.
“Chronic pain is not temporary. That’s the thing about being chronic, it doesn’t go away.” – Kyara K.
“[Chronic pain is not] like acute pain, or at least emotional/physical response, is not the same. Even though your pain is a solid ‘6-10,’ you cannot cry constantly, you cannot scream constantly, you cannot constantly do any of those things the entire time you feel the pain. The body will not let you. If it did, you’d probably die, as the body cannot maintain that heightened state. The body wants/seeks/ needs to be in homeostasis, therefore it will cope, to stay alive, to survive. Pain is not living.” – Gaye D.
“Chronic pain is not simple. It’s really complicated. I have so many different pains in different areas at different times, each of them requiring different treatment with varying rates of success. People have a hard time understanding this.” – Caroline M.
5. …something that can be “fixed” or easily managed.
“Chronic pain is not a pain that can be solved with Advil/Tylenol/Motrin/etc.” – Terri D.
“Something that you could deal with if you wanted to/tried hard enough/ate some fruit/saw this healer/bent this way.” – Gabbie J.
“Chronic pain is not something that has a one-size-fits-all solution. Sometimes it takes cycling through a combination of NSAIDs, opiates, antidepressants, nerve pain medications, steroid injections, topical preparations, supportive braces and a thousand other things before you land at what’s right for you.” – Janine G.
6. …indicative of a low pain tolerance.
“Chronic pain is not a low pain tolerance. Chronic pain patients tend to have very high pain tolerances due to living with some amount of pain every day. Rather, our bodies and brains seem to misinterpret nerve signals and stimuli that shouldn’t cause pain (like hugs from loved ones), resulting in the misfiring of pain receptors and the perception of pain.” – Sasha W.
7. …a sign of laziness.
“Chronic pain is not quitting (whether it be a job, a project, a sport, etc.) because you’re ‘lazy.’” – Domanique D.
“Chronic pain is not a free ride on life, sat on my butt collecting benefits. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.” – Janet J.O.
“It is not a sign of laziness or something that you are not feeling.” – Mighty member billgoodman70
“Chronic pain is not being lazy. Chronic pain is struggling to get up in the morning. Followed by adulting until you just can’t adult anymore.” – Stepitee T.
8. …always visible.
“Chronic pain isn’t always visible. Please don’t tell me I’m a liar or a faker or it’s not real because you can’t see it. My pain and constant exhaustion’s very real and it hurts. Every day.” – Abi S.
“Chronic pain is not visible! It just becomes a way of life that sometimes can surface as a mask of anger, or frustration, or pure exhaustion!!! My 11-year-old son has EDS and I have to remember to dig deep and ask how he is feeling because what he exhibits visually is sometimes a mask of what the true underlying cause is.” – Karen L.C.
9. …something you “get used to.”
“Something you can ‘get used to.’ Yes you get used to it being there, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.” – Ilja K.
“Chronic pain is not something you get used to. Yes, you get used to the fact that you’re always in pain, but being used to it doesn’t dull any of it. Your tolerance might go up but only because your pain levels keep going up and you learn to act as normal as possible while you’re feeling it to avoid the shame of being judged by people who have no clue.” – Zanne B.
“Chronic pain is not easy, it’s one of the hardest struggles of my life. It has got worse as time goes on, and feeling tired only makes it worse for me, and I get tired really easily now too.” – Jude M.
“Chronic pain is not easy. It takes a massive toll on your body and is not something that gets easier the longer you have it, it just gets more exhausting.” – Laura A.
11. …a natural part of getting older.
“Chronic pain is not a natural side effect of aging.” – Tiffany T.
“Chronic pain is not ‘just getting older.’ It is a very different, very real kind of pain that doesn’t go away when you pop an Advil.” – Ashley A.
12. …a sign of “weakness.”
“Chronic pain is not weakness! It takes unbelievable strength to deal with this pain day in and day out.” – Stormy S.
“Chronic pain is not weakness.” – Arwén Rose H.P.
13. …the same for everyone.
“Chronic pain is not the same for everyone. Your aunt’s cousin’s friend’s miracle treatment might not work for me.” – Sarah A.
“Chronic pain is not necessarily neuropathic or psychogenic. The third type, nociceptive pain, is due to actual tissue damage or irritation – the same kind of pain you experience when fracturing a leg or burning your hand on the stove. Due to my severe hypermobility, I’m in pain all day and every day – and it is all nociceptive pain (except for when a nerve gets pinched). I show no signs of psychogenic pain or fibromyalgia, but a lot of people assume that it must be something wrong with my ‘pain system.’ There isn’t! I’m just severely hypermobile and sprain or sublux joints about 100-200 times a day… Anyone would find that painful. Nothing ‘wrong’ with my pain system, I would rather say it works great. Totally does its job letting me know my finger dislocated opening the milk carton, lol.” – Sara S.H.
14. …an excuse to get out of something.
“Chronic pain is not an excuse to not be working, socializing, doing chores and errands. Believe me, we’d much rather participate in life and be able to do these things than stuck at home in pain with little to no relief.” – Allison M.
“Chronic pain is not an excuse. I miss out on so many things because of it.” – Jamie L.
“Chronic pain is not neglecting responsibilities. If your family member or friend has chronic pain, offer to help them go to the store, do laundry, you could offer to help them clean the house. There’s lots of things we can’t do alone. More often then not we need help maintaining regular responsibilities.” – Brittany S.
“Chronic pain is not predictable. With EDS, the type and location of my pain varies from day to day, sometimes hour to hour, and minute to minute. One day, I can be able to walk just fine, but can’t lift anything, dry my hair, or hold household objects because my shoulders and fingers are aching from subluxations. Other days, my knees are so bad I could need a wheelchair if I need to walk very far. I’m not doing anything to affect my pain differently, though. It’s not like, as long as I don’t do any crazy walking the day before, my knees won’t ever hurt. It’s often completely random, which is frustrating and hard for people to understand.” – Meg S.
16. …fun and leisurely.
“Chronic pain is not enjoyable. I am not relaxing for leisure.” – Stephani N.F.
“Chronic pain is not a vacation or a day off. it is exhausting and draining.” – Felicia C.
“Chronic pain is not fair, fun, fleeting or fake. Chronic pain is forever, unforgiving, relentless, debilitating and only really understood by the sufferer.” – Kaymie M.
17. …”just” physical pain.
“Chronic pain is not just physical pain. It’s an emotional turmoil of guilt, anger, mourning and sadness. It touches every aspect your life. And it doesn’t care when you’ve had enough.” – Melisa A.
“Chronic pain is not without its share of side effects like depression and isolation. As we have to cancel plans, we tend to lose friends. We are required by society to smile when we’re out and pretend that we’re not in agony. If we do show it, people begin glaring at us like we’re faking or becoming overly concerned as though it’s not something we deal with in our everyday life. Keeping up appearances, as it were, is exhausting and often leaves us with little to no energy for other activities.” – Mikki I.
“Chronic pain is not just one thing. It can trigger issues in other areas and become a vicious cycle. Chronic pain keeps you from sleeping, sleeping keeps you from recovery time, which causes more pain.” – Lisa K.
18. …a cry for attention.
“Chronic pain is not something that is used to seek attention.” – Jen K.
“Chronic pain is not a cry for attention. It’s a cry for awareness and understanding in hopes of relief.” – Shelby B.
“Chronic pain is not me making a big deal out of nothing for attention.” – Suzanne P.
“Chronic pain is not glamorous or attention-seeking behavior. It’s awful and life-changing.” – Akinsya H.
19. …a joke.
“Chronic pain isn’t a joke. When I say I’m tired and in pain, don’t laugh at me because I’m ‘young and should stop complaining.’” – Vanessa A.C.
“Chronic pain is real and not a joke. It hurts, it’s hard to control, it’s hard to understand, it’s hard to find products that help for more than a short period of time. Chronic pain will not beat me. It will not control me.” – Becky B.
“Chronic pain is not a joke, it’s draining physically and mentally.” – Devi R.
20. …an excuse used to get pain medication.
“Chronic pain is not an excuse to treat me like a drug-seeker. Just because I come to the ER because the pain is excruciating doesn’t mean I’m a drug-seeker.” – Tiffany W.
“Chronic pain is not a sneaky ploy to get prescription pain medication.” – Kathryn M.
“Chronic pain is not drug-seeking. It is not me trying to get high, or abuse medication. It is continuous, unrelenting pain that has beaten me down to the point of finally admitting that I need help.” – Christina G.
21. …something that can be brushed aside or ignored.
“Chronic pain is not something that should be overlooked by physicians and loved ones.” – Mighty member Jenni4
“Chronic pain is not just able to be ignored. Chronic pain is more than just physically distracting, it is mentally and emotionally draining and affects how we are able to process normal thoughts and feelings. Chronic pain changes you.” – Megan L.
“Chronic pain is not to be ignored, said my doctor. Luckily he helped me find some treatments that have helped mine not be constant, just recurring.” – Karen J.T.
22. …a person’s fault.
“Chronic pain is not my fault. You don’t get to decide that I’m not trying hard enough or doing enough for my health. And you don’t get to invalidate my pain because you ‘don’t think there’s any reason for me to be in pain.’” – Danielle L.T.
“Chronic pain is not my fault.” – Mikayla M.
23. …something you can simply “move past” or “get over.”
“Chronic pain is not something that will get better if you ‘move on’ with your life.” – Mighty member dani
“Chronic pain is not something you’ll just get over.” – Mighty member Jeepprincess61
24. …the defining factor of a person’s identity.
“Chronic pain is not my identity. I have chronic pain. It does not have me. Yes, sometimes I forget this…” – Mighty member jmoznette
“Chronic pain is not all that I am. It is always there, but it doesn’t define me.” – Kaila D.
“Chronic pain is not defining our lives! It is a constant, difficult fight we will win! Along with friends, loved ones, our allies!!! Hang in there people!” – Nadia M.
25. …something that makes you a “bad” employee.
“Chronic pain is not a reason to think someone is a poor employee. If workplaces learn to better accommodate their ill employees, they will learn about all the strengths we bring (I am so lucky to be in a great workplace now, but definitely haven’t always been).” – Kat G.N.
“Chronic pain is not a steady level of pain, and when it’s widespread it’s not always everywhere all the time. I can have severe lower back pain and moderate shoulder pain one day, but the next could be completely different. Yes, I’m almost always in pain but the areas affected and how severe can vary.” – Holly D.
“Chronic pain is not easy to live with. It’s not consistent. Every day can be different, but it’s there all the time. And it’s not a competition. Everyone is different, but one condition shouldn’t be compared with another.” – Elizabeth S.
“[Chronic pain is not] the same all the time. The type of pain, location and intensity changes constantly and you never know what is going to hurt or how bad.” – Heather M.K.
27. …an entirely negative experience.
“Chronic pain is not necessarily a bad thing. For me (as I first got my diagnosis) I could see that I really lacked appreciation for the little things in life. My whole ‘world-view’ changed. I finally began to take myself seriously and I started to listen to my heart and my body. I quickly noticed that whenever I got the slightest stressed out the pain would increase. That made me rethink a lot of my action and how I actually treated myself. I honestly don’t think I would have changed that much if I didn’t have to live with chronic pain.” – Sandra D.