Reclaiming the Pain Olympics

The Pain Olympics. This is a phrase that creeps up on message board support groups, it is one I have used myself. It is always negative. I woke up wondering why. When people seem to compete to have the most agony why do we look to the Olympics? This ignores the history of the Olympics and what actually occurs to train and prepare for competition. If anything the Pain Olympics should be a positive thing. Olympians are driven people, they put effort into their chosen sport from a small age when most have simpler ambitions. Most of them come from privileged homes but not all. To be an Olympian is to be a pinnacle of health. So to be a Pain Olympian is to be… it is hardly to be a pinnacle of someone struggling with pain in it’s current context. Something we must change.

The fact that people seem to compete for pain on the surface is also illogical, however that is not what is really occuring. The people competing are stuck in a space mentally where they cannot empathize or recieve empathy. Everyone has these moments. They seem most common amid teenagers struggling with the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood. “No one understands!” This feeling echoes through you at times, this social doubt choosing your most vulnerable moments to spring up. Often people are unaware this is even what is going on. They just know they hurt, and they feel isolated by that pain. They feel so alone and as if this pain cannot be tolerated, but helpless as to how to proceed. This is what the current pain Olympics looks like. It is not glorious. If anything it is an agonizing place to be, and while people do need to be reminded that they are not alone perhaps in using this term the helpers are being remiss. I know I have been. I am not always the best at showing my compassion. I am at times too direct, too blunt and this may be a moment where this is true. There is no need to shame people who are in such a state of mind. Saying you understand fails to work but there have to be other ways to say, “You are in pain, you aren’t the only one. I cannot fix your pain but I can listen. I can understand. You don’t have to suffer without compassion in your life just because you hurt or just because your disease is rare. I know it is scary and today is especially bad, but I am here.” In fact those words work just fine.

I have not participated in the traditional pain Olympics in a very long time. Escaping them was a feat in and of itself. It requires rigerous mental training. Every day I must approach my pain. I canot hide from it, run from it, pretend it is not there or otherwise neglect myself. I must try to stay at my fittest, eating the best possible food… which often is bacon and cheese and potato something because that is what I can get into me that my body won’t reject but that nutrition is still far above starvation and isn’t wholly bad for you. To face my pain I did fight for pain management too, so there is relief. My set schedule of medications keeps me from breaking down most of the time. I still have break through pain and when I wake up there are dark moments. It hurts to breathe, and often I wake up choking because without pain medication the act of breathing is a nightmarish thing. So I push on through and persevere.

Pain Olympians I hereby reclaim this word. A pain Olympian is someone who despite the pain gets out of bed if possible, brushes their hair if they have it, and does something to nourish their body. IF you cannot get out of bed or should not, then staying in bed too is a victory. It is something I am personally terrible at. Bedrest is extremely difficult, even in our modern era of computers and constant access to entertainment. A Pain Olympian is someone who does what they must to survive despite the pain. That is the Bronze Medal. The silver medalist does all of the above, then also does something pleasurable. Maybe you eat some chocolate, maybe you shower, maybe you go to bed with some spoons remaining. A gold medalist is someone who does all of the above, despite the pain. This is not a good day sort of award. You can only get the gold on your worst days. The rest are training for days like this, building your tolerance. The gold day is when you live. You breathe. You stay alive through the pain. Yes this means many days Silver is the best we can achieve, but that is a beautiful thing. There are days without pain medication, some people do not have any. I have gone many years without it between years where I do have that luxury.

The pain Olympics should be something every chronic pain sufferer participates in mentally this way. Personal goals they set themselves. Olympians give up family, friends, activities outside their sport. Pain Olympians and chronic illness sufferers already lost most of those things. The weak friendships that could not subsist without constant grooming are gone. Marriages are often shattered. Both to me sound lonely. Both to me sound hard. So I have reclaimed the Pain Olympics for what it really should be. It should be something we are proud to survive, it is a grueling, defeating thing, and pain takes so much. I cannot give actual gold medals to people who survive but they are there. I started seeing my scars as signs of survival a long time ago, so the gold medal is just inside of them. They are the ribbons to hold it to me.

the biggest thing to know about pain is everyone feels it in measure. I have written often that pain is a gas which takes up every available space it is given. Pain medication, meditation, and mental fortitude as well as tolerance to pain make it far easier to contain. Years of the Pain Olympics have made me aware of my strength. I already was strong, so I cannot claim they made me stronger. They made me more aware of my weak points. Which can make someone feel stronger but can also make them feel weaker. The Pain Olympics are not about defeat. If you are there, then you already survived something. Being born, being a child, being a teenager, being an adult. Perhaps you are still a child. Every day we are alive is something we survived. Every day. This is why I celebrate my birthday and always will. It is my victory celebration for another year. Someday I will die, but not for a very long time. I refuse to go peacefully or quietly, nor will I go because of the pain.

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