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The Value of Pain Stories

 "A community is a group of people banded together by gifts and stories."

Charles Eisenstein

It is embedded in our human history: stories. Even before modern day, numerous cultures have shared history lessons in the form of stories. By sharing wisdom and experiences, stories can build communities. In essence, individuals no longer feel alone; they feel a sense of belonging and connection. Those stories can generate emotion and help people cope with life's complexities.

In a day and age of the “selfie,” it is quite clear that an experience can be captured by photo or video; yet, what is truly valued by sharing that moment is the desire to be seen or heard. Many times this interaction is purely one of entertainment, but there are times when some type of pain is associated with that “share.” Yet, when one speaks of his or her own pain, the person who is sharing may still feel alone—especially when observers are unsure how to respond or do not understand.

We know that feeling alone and isolated can contribute to the suffering of chronic pain. It is not until pain sufferers are heard can they feel a sense of validation. By truly listening to pain stories, one can be educated and empowered with the hope that there are other ways to view or address the pain. Realizing that others have suffered too can minimize not only suffering, but loneliness that can co-exist. The detailed stories remind us that pain is not just physical, but a biopsychosocial phenomenon. Ultimately, how an individual interprets his or her pain can impact their degree of suffering and their overall function in life.

It is no surprise that many patients feel that they are unheard in the transactional business of medicine. The history of the conventional, paternalistic approach to medicine has minimized the other side of the pain story—the patient. Again, without telling their stories or without a genuine listener, patients do not feel validated nor do they get the best treatment. Without validation, the suffering of pain can perpetuate unnecessarily. If patients have their voices and stories heard by medical professionals, then the medical world could come to a better understanding or realization of that pain experience. With the advent of social media and more shared stories of pain, it is becoming clearer that the relational aspect of medicine must be bolstered.

Pain stories are reminders that pain patients need active listeners as much as medical professionals need engaged patients who are active in their own care. Once the medical system takes the time to truly listen to patients' stories without judgment, it will come to more fully understand and appreciate the struggle of those in pain and also be pleasantly surprised that their patients will finally feel heard and willing to be more active in the process of healing in multiple areas of their multidimensional lives. Most importantly, being heard can be therapeutic, in and of itself.

The beauty of a pain story is that it can evolve with the patient as he or she receives proper education and direction. Stories of despair can become stories of hope for all who bear witness—not just for that individual. By hearing his or her pain out loud, we can all dig deeper into their history. More importantly, as a medical community we can begin to unveil the root cause of that patient’s pain and that would be a valuable gift for the next stories of pain to come.


Melissa Cady, D.O. is an osteopathic physician with traditional training and dual board-certification in anesthesiology and pain medicine following her fellowship.

Known as the Challenge Doctor, Dr. Cady chose not to join the typical pain practice out of conviction that there is a better way to address pain’s root cause and that better education and understanding are critical pieces for all involved. Her first pain educational effort is reflected in her recent book/audiobook release, PAINDEMIC (www.PaindemicBook.com).

Dr. Cady has developed a self-funded PainOutLoud.com membership website to highlight the stories of those who have found ways to overcome their pain and also the professionals who are devoted to helping those in pain with more holistic and educational considerations. 

Date of publication: December 26, 2016

Date of last modification: December 29, 2016

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