Liz and her husband arrived in the United States eighteen months ago. Their children, now independent young adults, were left behind in Canada. Liz knew no one when she arrived so she joined a number of groups and wives clubs in an effort to meet people. Over a period of time, in one particular group, one woman from Estonia (who I will call Kati) stood out to her. Kati seemed sad and lonely, often staying on the outskirts of the group, speaking only when spoken to. Several other women in the group told Liz not to waste her time making friends with Kati. They said she was ‘a downer’ to be around. Liz ignored their advice.
Each time there was an event Liz called to invite Kati. Like Liz, Kati knew no one and had no family close by. She had one daughter who she was very close to and missed terribly. But Kati’s daughter was also an independent young woman and had been left behind in Estonia. Then, slowly, Liz found out that her new friend wasn’t feeling well but Kati could not adequately describe how she was feeling and was having a hard time getting a diagnosis. She was embarrassed and didn’t want others to know what was going on. With Liz’s encouragement she kept trying to find a solution and was finally put on thyroid medication. Life changed drastically for Kati. Her ability to function and get through the day improved and she began to feel normal again.
Liz knew exactly what Kati was going through. She had suffered from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) for thirty years. Liz knew how it felt when it was hard to get a diagnosis and how difficult it was to interact with others when she often didn’t even feel like getting out of bed. She had once been that outsider and now tended to gravitate toward those she called ‘the underdogs’.
Just two weeks before I saw Liz that evening she had been through dental surgery. The antibiotics required after the surgery caused severe stomach problems for her. Though she had finished the medication and her stomach pains were easing she woke that morning with a dreadful headache. She had to take a painkiller causing more stomach pain. But it didn’t stop her.
She had promised Kati that they would go shopping together and then out for lunch. And they did. Kati enjoyed the day and was very grateful for the company. She even told Liz, “If it weren’t for you I would never leave home.” Liz smiled broadly as she finished telling me the story.
When you have suffered you are better able to empathize with others who are in pain. Is there some way you could help someone else in pain? Did you know that in doing so you benefit just as much?
Can you leave the ‘playground politics and in-groups’ in the past? Step up, expand your horizons, and reach out a helping hand to those who seem to need it. You may be turned down, several times, but then again magic may happen. You may find your own feelings of well-being increase and you may even make a new friend.
And no matter what form of chronic pain you have sometimes the best thing you can do is get up, get dressed, and get out – even if it’s just for a little while.
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