Pain Reveals You

Today--since I only have about 30 minutes to crank this post out before I have to go to yoga--I will be sharing an essay I recently wrote and submitted to the soon to be published "Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive." I REALLY hope it's selected because not only would that be totally awesome, but I believe this is my best written essay thus far.  

Something to Note: I wanted to reflect on a lesson I learned from the dark days (aka: back surgery years), but I didn't want it to be a complete duplicate of "Winning Life Back." What I ended up writing came from my experience from talking with several groups of teenagers at Sprague High School when I went back to give a talk on my horrific high school experience. I think what lacked in that discussion was what I learned. (Mind you, I hadn't even prepared this talk, which the first class, unfortunately, got to suffer through.) I had a terrific time speaking to these teens and discussing all sorts of topics, but I think the next time I go visit I want to get across the theme of being judged and judging others because that is something EVERYONE is familiar with in high school and heck even in life! 

Anyhow, I will let you read my essay now and hopefully it will be an uplifting experience because that's the whole point of this Chicken Soup book--actually that's kind of the whole point of ALL Chicken Soup for the Soul Books: Upliftification (I realize that's not a word found in the dictionary, but it should be implemented.)

You can also listen to me read this essay here: 

Someone once told me, “Pain does not change you it reveals you,” and after enduring two major spinal surgeries I’ve come to agree with this statement.

Diagnosed, at age fourteen, with an asymmetrical extra vertebra, I endured a tremendous amount of pain. Kids at school thought that having an extra bone meant I had a tail, but I’m afraid this was not the case. Now that I think of it, though, that might have been easier for me in some ways because then people could see my disability. By age sixteen I grew accustomed to the dirty looks I often received whenever I refused to give up my seat for an elderly person while riding the bus. People only saw me as this healthy-looking young woman who was kind of a brat, but the truth was I was dying on the inside, living in constant agony. Days passed when it hurt to simply breathe. Sometimes I wanted to wear a t-shirt that read: Messed up spine and am in severe pain, so please leave me alone.

            And I feel like this frustration of being misjudged pertains to more than just a healthy-looking kid, like myself, with an invisible disability. Everyone is fighting a battle in his or her life, whether it’s a disease, a death in the family, or something else, and after realizing this I began reacting to those around me differently than I had before my diagnosis. Now, when I run into an unpleasant person I readjust my thinking because maybe that grumpy middle-aged woman in the supermarket is working three jobs in order to support her children and pay off her husband’s medical bills rather than just assuming she is a naturally unfriendly person who hates my guts.
 It hurt when people judged me. I wanted to smile, pretend like everything was okay in order to be accepted--which is something I often did--but that got tiresome. Sometimes the pain reached levels so unbearable that politeness was no longer my top priority, getting medicine or getting home as soon as possible was of greater importance.

            When the world is crashing down on you it’s definitely challenging to stay positive. Snowboarding, horseback riding, skydiving, school sports and dances, or even bowling for that matter … these were just a handful of the things I desired to do as a teenager and yet I couldn’t and it sucked! It’s easy to sit in a dejected slumped over position and mope over the crappy hand of cards you’ve been dealt, but honestly where does that get you?

            Answer: Nowhere.

This is something I discovered as a seventeen-year-old when two of my four titanium screws cracked completely in half. Apparently, one percent of all patients who undergo this type of spinal fusion crack one screw and I cracked two, which meant round two of surgery! My initial reaction was extreme sadness and anger. A list of profanities bubbled in my brain whenever anyone told me that this was God’s lesson for me or that things weren’t as bad as seemed.

A short period of time passed when I internally blamed my sour attitude on the pain and the unfortunate situation I was in rather than blaming myself, but then my mind flashbacked to a scene a couple months prior to that, which halted this way of thinking. My family went out to dinner one night and my mom was on a diet. I had a bigger plate of food than her and I teasingly said: You make me feel fat.

Mom: No, Amanda, you are the only one who can do that. I can do stuff, but you are the one who gets to decide how that stuff makes you feel.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” well, in that moment I realized that that saying was applicable for horrible situations too. And as Lena Horne so elegantly put it, “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”

Like a banana I had been peeled open because that’s the thing about pain, it doesn’t change you it reveals you. I decided that despite this horrible, horrible situation I had been sucked into I was going to stay positive because, honestly, that was the sole thing I had control of. And once you realize that, you can conquer the world.


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