My husband and I had one of our rare disagreements a few days ago, and it involved people in pain. I had just finished reading the September/October 2011 issue of Arthritis Today. He picked it up and commented on the picture of Carrie Ann Inaba (A Dancing With the Stars judge, who has spinal stenosis) on the cover. “She doesn't look like someone with arthritis” he said. “What does someone with arthritis look like?” I asked. “She's too young and healthy looking,” was his response.
I was surprised that my husband would make such a stereotyping remark. He is a psychologist, with many patients who have Worker's Comp injuries and/or other chronic pain issues. I thought he would know better. It is this kind of thinking that leads to people with handicap parking placards who are able to walk being accused of cheating the system. Many of us with invisible illness run into disbelievers because of stereotyped thinking of what a 'sick person' looks like.
He did have some valid points, though. One is that when we think 'arthritis', we are more likely to think of our grandmothers than our daughters, even though we know there are kids with arthritis, too. The other point he made is that many people with chronic pain can't work, so can't afford (physically or financially) the things she does to cope.
So how helpful is it to have a young, vibrant person on the cover of a magazine that is read more by people who are older and less able? On the one hand, it can make us feel old and worn out in comparison. On the other hand, it can give us hope that there is still life left to be lived for all of us. Or, it can just be an interesting human interest story, a glimpse into the life of one person and how she copes with her issues. It is a reminder that we older folks (I am 54, older is a relative term) don't own the market on chronic pain and other illnesses. I know many people, young and old, who have chronic pain. Each of us deals with it in our own way.
Personally, I think a story like that of Ms. Inaba gives me encouragement. She does not let her pain control her life, and neither do I. I do my best to keep the pain to a dull roar that I can push into the background, and go on with my life. I know not to overdo it, but I try not to underdo it, either. I know my body well enough to know if I am doing something that may send me into a tailspin, and I back off. I know that, though some activities may increase my pain, they are not actually causing any damage, and that I can tolerate.
Moral 1: You can't tell a magazine by its cover story. (I just wanted to say that, 'cause I like the sound of it).
Moral 2 (The real one): No matter what your age, no matter what your condition, there is hope. Know your body. Respect your body's needs. Know when to push forward, and when to back off. Your body is depending on you to treat it right. Don't let it down.