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Anyone who has ever had a serious injury or accident knows extreme pain, and how hard it is to live with it. My journey with pain was several years ago, and I feel so blessed to have come out of that black hole of constant and chronic pain and depression to where I am today.

Living with neverending pain totally changes you. It is also incredibly humbling to be the person who must say that you cannot do something, or that you need dropped off at the door.  I hate to admit it, but chronic pain made me mean and bitter, ready to snap off anybody’s head for the slightest perceived infraction. Fortunately, it also made me more empathetic when my husband Mark was dealing with bulging discs in his back– I was well aware how bad the pain could be, especially when there was no end in sight.

In 2009, I tore the meniscus in my knee. What should have been a simple and quick operation to repair it turned into a nightmare, as our insurance provider and the doctor that they referred me to did the “try not to pay for anything expensive” dance — and I suffered through it. It took six doctor’s visits and me screaming at the doctor that it wasn’t just arthritis, to get an MRI done on a Thursday…and I was in surgery Monday morning! Unfortunately, those jagged pieces in my knee were chewing up my ligaments and surrounding tissue for that entire six months. My daughter said that the photo the doctor showed her of the inside of my leg looked “like hamburger meat.”  The doctor told me NOT to exercise it for a while, and did not order physical therapy. (I should have realized then how screwed up my leg was.) I was depressed and immobile, even after the surgery was done because of the extreme damage done to my leg, and I gained so much weight–which made me more depressed and immobile– vicious circle for sure.

I  realized today when I was walking Max just how far I’ve come. It is now much easier to walk on trails and uneven terrain, hills and steps. During the worst times, I was crying in pain after walking five minutes on flat surfaces at the grocery store, and I limped like an old lady. I hated it! Though I probably will never be 100 percent, I am so happy to walk normally and be able to move again. I will be walking a 5K with a friend this weekend, and we are running one in August– a far cry from where I was two or three years ago.

Still, it was an incredible journey because it helped me to learn both sides and be empathetic with others. I know that before this happened, I never realized just how bad something could hurt, or how a disability could affect a person. I am more understanding, better at being patient with my Mom when she cannot keep up, quicker to slow down and lend a hand to elderly people that I run into at the store, and clearly nicer with my words as well.

I know that so many people have had much worse pain than mine, and cannot imagine the fear that comes with a diagnosis of a severe illness. Because of this long saga, I know what not being able to trust your own body feels like, and through that pain I have learned to be more compassionate to others.

Have you ever had to deal with chronic and constant pain? Do you feel it changed you permanently?