The term “no pain, no gain” was mostly used by personal trainers to encourage their customers to endure the pain of exercise in order to get fitter, which I understand, but it’s also used as an inspirational phrase that tells people they must go through hardship to reach happier times. The phrase being used in this context is what bothers me. Inspirational speakers used to come to my high school and say things along the lines of “no pain, no gain”, or “whatever you’re going through, it will get better,” and every time they did, I wanted to throw something at their heads. I know they meant well, however, hearing this phrase makes me feel… Inadequate. Like, if pain equals gain, what do I have to show for it? The main issue in my life since the age of 7 has been chronic pain, and I doubt it will get better any time soon; if anything, it’s getting worse.
Sure, I’m pretty happy with the progress I’ve made in the past year, having started a business degree at university and having moved out of my parent’s house. However, it feels like if the equation pain=gain is supposed to be correct, the amount of pain I experience on a daily basis far outweighs the gains I have made (pain>gain). How can something I experience every second of every day be dismissed as a bridge to a happier life? I may be seen as extremely sensitive for writing this article, however, I’m not the only person with chronic illness who doesn’t like this phrase.
Pushing Myself Too Far
Not only do I dislike the subtle connotations towards pain within this phrase, I dislike that it also tries to teach us that we have to push ourselves to our limit in order to gain anything of values . As I’m sure you know, pushing yourself to your limit, especially when you have a chronic illness, can be extremely dangerous. My physiotherapist used to tell me off for pushing myself too hard; I was sacrificing my health and my quality of life because I thought I had to push myself to the edge in order to get anywhere. I would “boom and bust”, exercising day after day until I could barely move after, having to rest and recover for a few days to a week because I was too sick to function and then doing it all over again. Sure, I was losing some weight and was active, but at what cost? It was a toxic cycle. My pain levels were constantly high… well, higher than my normal high levels, and my capacity to function mentally suffered along with my physical ability.
Now, I’m doing better. I’m coping with school, however, I don’t exercise as much as I would like. By doing one, I have to sacrifice the other. Otherwise, I’m sacrificing my ability to function at all. It’s a fragile balance that many people with chronic illness have to maintain.
What I have lost
As the result of chronic pain, I have lost so much. I lost the second half of my childhood. I have lost my quality of life, my enjoyment of physical activity, and my independence. Every day is a struggle. I struggle to get out of bed, I struggle to get ready, I struggle to do housework. I had to give up studying the degree that would lead to my dream career because I couldn’t cope with full-time study.
There are days when I feel so incredibly useless. I can’t remember what being pain-free feels like. The pain is always there, reminding me of what I lost and what I can still lose. It feels like, as someone with a chronic illness, I have to work five times as hard as someone who doesn’t have a chronic illness or a disability to achieve the same result. And that hurts.
There Have Been Some Gains
In order to disperse some of the negativity in this article, I thought I’d discuss some of the gains I have made during my chronic pain journey. One is that I am far less judgemental of other people than I used to be. Growing up with an invisible illness has taught me that I am in no place to judge other people by their appearances, when by looking at me, you wouldn’t be able to tell the magnitude of my suffering. I know what it’s like to have your physical ability accessed purely based on your appearance by strangers, and I wouldn’t want to do that to anyone when I know how upsetting it is.
Growing up with a chronic illness has definitely made me a stronger person. Chronic pain sufferers have to be extremely resilient in order to carry on with life. I put up with extreme amounts of pain on a daily basis, just to get things done, just like my fellow chronic illness warriors do. Every time I fall, I get up again. Even if I need to have a little cry before I manage it.
Learning Who My Real Friends Are
One benefit of having a chronic illness that I didn’t see coming is that you find out who your real friends and family’s are. Whether you’ve known them since before you became ill or met them along the way, the people who really care for you will do their best to be understanding of what you go through. It can be incredibly tough when family members are indifferent or doubtful towards your suffering. They’re your family and they’re supposed to love you unconditionally, but this isn’t always the case. I try to interact with people like this as little as possible.
I have gained and then lost some really toxic people from my life over the years. Having to cope with a chronic illness is one of the biggest tests a friendship can have. If they’re truly understanding and empathetic, then their friendship will last through thick and thin. Some people like to be friends during the good times and then leave when life gets rough. Fine, that’s their decision, but I won’t waste effort on people who don’t care enough to spend the same amount of effort on our friendship. My closest friends are the ones who have stuck with me for years, since the beginning of high school. I was already dealing with chronic pain, however, they were accepting of me and have been nothing but supportive since we met, despite the fact that my condition has done nothing but get worse.
My chronic pain journey has not been smooth. Not even close. I don’t like that pain is seen as this ultimate goal when people like me suffer from it every day. Chronic pain can be extremely debilitating, however, it seems to be hard to understand if you’ve never experienced it. The idea that pain is means to an end is, in my opinion, very harmful towards people’s attitudes with regards to chronic pain.
About The Author
Amy Clements is a 20-year-old who has lived with chronic pain, the result of Fibromyalgia, since childhood. In her teens she was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome in her wrist, which was the result of a netball injury. Amy lives in New Zealand and studies Business part-time at University. She enjoys reading novels and writing. She especially enjoys writing about her experience with chronic illness.