I am 28-years-old. Ten years ago, when I was 18, I was diagnosed with Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD) and multiple herniated, bulging, and ruptured discs in my lumbar and sacral spine. My injury was a result of years of competitive gymnastics and diving, a culmination of impact, compression, and working my body beyond signs of exhaustion. My dream was to land on the Olympic podium; instead, I landed in pain management. My injury is most prevalent in older patients, so I am an anomaly at my age. No matter how many conversations I hold with fellow patients in various waiting rooms, with strangers in public, or even with extended family members and distant acquaintances, there are some questions that arise time and time again. Here are some of the most common questions I’ve received as a 20-something dealing with chronic pain:
“Your injury was ten years ago, so you should be fine now.”
Yes, my initial injury was ten years ago. Believe me, I know! The past ten years haven’t been easy. Doctors appointments, surgeries, physical therapy, bedrest, and more prescriptions than I care to count. I have been reminded of my injury every single day since it happened. It may seem logical that an injury that occurred a decade ago has since healed, but the very definition of chronic pain is pain that is long-term. I have felt pain from my injury in some capacity every day since I was 18-years-old. I would much rather my pain have been acute, that it would have gone away long ago. But it hasn’t. It just hasn’t. And it isn’t for lack of trying to find a cure, to find anything, to make the pain go away… or to at least alleviate it a little. Trust me when I say that I would give anything to spend just one day without having to feel pain!
“You seem active and fit, so do you really have an injury?”
First of all, thank you for the compliment. I do strive to maintain a regular physical fitness routine, and I’m glad that it’s paying off. But you should know that my fitness is very much tied into my injury. One of the holistic approaches to chronic pain is to maintain a well-balanced diet and to eliminate any extra pounds that may be weighing down the injured body part. Even when I would rather lounge around and watch Netflix, I get up and exercise to lubricate my joints so that I don’t end up with excruciatingly painful muscle spasms stemming from sedentary positions. I stay fit because of my injury.
“You don’t look like you’re in pain. You’re just candy-seeking prescription opioids.”
During times when the Opioid Crisis is very much in the national dialogue, this question is almost unavoidable.
“You’re too young to have an injury like this. You’re just faking it.”
Believe me, I wish I was faking it! Unfortunately, I’m not.
This post is republished on Medium.
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