Does Living with Chronic Pain Make Us Brave? 

Jennie Shulkin, CEO of Override

I was getting an annual checkup the other day. While we were talking about my chronic pain, the doctor looked me in the eye and said, “you guys are the bravest of the bunch.” She said in a way that made it clear she really meant it, like she wouldn’t wish chronic pain on her worst enemy.

I kept repeating the phrase over and over in my head for the next few days.

What really is bravery?

I’ve always thought it was funny that people refer to other people on their deathbed, suffering with cancer, or experiencing the debilitating chronic illness as “brave.” Why? What’s brave about it? It wasn’t a choice to be dealing with these things.

To me, bravery always seemed like an innate characteristic that made you choose certain things – certain things that fear would’ve prevented you from doing. After all, I think that the opposite of bravery is fear. For instance, being brave to me is enlisting in the military, running into a burning building, having a difficult conversation with someone, embarking on an adventure, taking a big risk. But getting sick or experiencing pain don’t fit in that category. They aren’t something that any of us chose.


Being brave and chronic pain

Here’s what I decided about bravery and living with chronic pain: the way that some people with chronic pain live their lives is brave. 

I don’t think it can be applied to everyone with chronic pain. I don’t think that the very nature of having chronic pain makes someone brave. But I do think bravery applies to people who look their pain boldly in the face, spit at it, and tell it that it’s not going to stop them from living their best life. Better than that, they can tell the pain that they are not scared of it. (That part is easier said than done.)

The reality is that it’s usually not this binary. Most people with chronic pain aren’t “brave” all the time. And that’s okay. Most of us with chronic pain go through darker periods where we are totally defeated by it, where we feel sorry for ourselves, where we hide in our beds or in front of the TV for days, and where we wish everything would stop.

Bravery comes into play when we decide to pick ourselves back up. It’s when we decide to go to that in dinner or party we really don’t feel up to going to, force our bodies to move even when there’s a lot of protest from within, laughter tears, love with her whole heart, do something for other people, or enroll in a new pain program even when the last 15 haven’t worked.

It’s when we dare to have hope that one day things will be better.

To me, that’s bravery.

Posted on 
December 8, 2023

Don't miss the next blog post

Sign up to be notified of new blog posts