living with chronic pain – someone else’s: part 2
by nikki meredith
My husband walks in the door from work. I’m in the kitchen chopping vegetables. He kisses me and asks how I am. I shrug and then place the tips of my three middle fingers over my right eye – the sign that I have a migraine. “Oh no,” he says. “I’m so sorry.” And he does look sorry though I wonder how he can keep feeling sorry when it’s such a frequent occurrence. But even more than that, I wonder, why do I do this to him? Why do I need to tell him?
It’s easier for me to answer why I shouldn’t tell him than why I do. I shouldn’t tell him because I assume that the hardest part of living with someone with a painful medical condition is the feeling of helplessness. I know how I feel when he’s suffering from any malady, large or small, especially if there’s nothing I can do to make him better. When you love someone, you want to alleviate his or her suffering and when you can’t, it’s terrible. And when you can’t alleviate the suffering, over and over and over again, it must be terrible over and over and over again. So, I repeat, why do I tell him? If I love him, why don’t I spare him this ordeal?
I’m quite sure that my motivation is not to render the pain less intense. Telling him doesn’t render it less intense. I can’t deny that I want his sympathy but more than his sympathy, I want his respect. For what? For being resilient enough to soldier on in spite of the pain. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I want credit. If I don’t tell him I have a migraine, how will he know that I’m being a good sport? How will he know that sometimes I’m even a tiny bit brave?
But is it fair? It must be so deflating for him to come home from work and instead of being greeted by a kiss and a spirited account of my day, he’s greeted by a kiss and three fingers over my right eye. Or maybe it isn’t so terrible for him. Maybe when he says, “I’m so sorry” he is sorry but he isn’t devastated, the way I would be. In fact, maybe that’s the secret to the success of our marriage is that he isn’t thrown. He may feel helpless. He is thrown when I have a 10 on my personal migraine Richter scale but I can’t soldier-on with a 10 and I don’t need to tell him. The symptoms do that for me. But 10’s are rare. More common are 7’s. With a 7, I can manage. I can keep chopping. Get credit. Maybe a gold star. But only if he knows.