On honouring pain {guest post }

Abby Norman is a kindred spirit and a half, and sometimes we are so similar it freaks me out. I had the joy of getting to know her through Story 101, and she is a dear friend. She has a passion to change the world, and I think she might just do that. It’s a pleasure to have her here:

I spent a long time being sick. At thirteen I got mono. There is nothing less funny to a thirteen year old who has never even held hands with a boy, then bad jokes about the kissing disease. Unfortunately, that was the least of my troubles; I never got better.
I spent the years between 13 and 26 looking fine and feeling terrible. It took three years to find a doctor who would even believe me and another year to find a specialist who could give me a diagnosis and a piece of hope to hold in my hands. I will never forget the thick Indian accent and the kind look in his eyes when he held my hands and told me, “my dear, you are going to get much better.” He was the first person who could promise me that.

At 26 I was miraculously healed. A story I hold close to my heart. It is sharp and powerful and sometimes people who don’t understand end up swinging the story around and seriously hurting someone. Perhaps that is why people love healing stories so much, they are powerful. We need to remember they are powerful, but like a double edged sword. All stories are.

If nothing else, in the thirteen years of sickness and confusion, I learned this: You never know how or why someone else is hurting, but it is holy to honor their pain.

Fibromyalgia, my eventual diagnosis, is still a bit of a mystery. 17 years ago, no one had any clue. More often than not, people would shrug their shoulders and roll their eyes. You look fine Abby; surely you can’t be in that much pain. But I was. That is the funny thing about suffering; no one can experience anyone else’s. You are the only one who knows how much pain you are in.

It is the truth of this world. We don’t really know, for sure, for a fact that other people are experiencing what they say they are. I get it. I do. I looked fine, and on the days I was going to school I acted fine. How in the world could I be telling the truth about my pain? Surely, I could just get over it.

There are 19 pressure points that hurt for no reason when someone has fibromyalgia. Hit the bottom of the feet, the spot down the arm, the shoulder spot wrong and tears would immediately spring to my face. Those were the tears I could always control. It was the next set that left me heaving uncontrollably in the bathroom. The set that came after the bump when someone would insist that I simply could not be hurting, that I should just get over it. I would have loved to get over the unintended bump, but it hurt. Not recognizing my pain as valid, made me feel invisible. It let me know my experience did not matter.

I make the same mistake all of the time. Maybe it isn’t physical, but I often accidentally brush up against someone else’s sore spot. Something I say, an allusion I use, the tone of my voice makes someone recoil in pain. My gut reaction is almost always to defend myself. That person is being too sensitive, he should chill out, she should get over it. I didn’t mean it like that anyway. But I don’t get to decide what hurts other people. We are all broken in different ways. No one really knows what is going to hurt someone else. Sometimes we don’t even know what will hurt our own selves.

But I do know how to not cause the extra damage. I can honor others’ pain. I can believe them when they tell me that something hurts. I can remember the pressure points, and try not to bump them again. Inevitably, I will hit another one. And then, I can say I am sorry again, even if it isn’t my fault. Because honoring someone’s pain can sometimes heal that pain. Wouldn’t we all like to be a little less broken?

Abby  NormanAbby Norman lives and loves in the city of Atlanta. She has two hilarious children and a husband who doubles as her copy editor and biggest fan. If two in diapers and a full-time job teaching English at a local high school don’t keep her busy, you can find her blogging at accidentaldevotional.com and on Twitter at @AccidentalDevo.Abby loves all kinds of Girl Scout cookies, and carries a dream of one day writing a book about teaching in her heart.
Over to you:

  • Can you relate to having ‘pressure points’ of pain that other people unintentionally rub up against?
  • What does it mean in your life to honour someone’s pain?

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24 Responses to On honouring pain {guest post }

  1. Rebecka 3rd September, 2013 at 9:32 pm #

    Abby, this was absolutely beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing. I have several pressure points, physical as well as emotional. Hearing “But you look fine!” when I tell someone how I’m feeling is one of them… 😉 I hope my experiences with chronic illness has made me more sensitive to the pain of others. I know how much it means when someone is just willing to listen, even if they don’t necessarily understand what you’re going through. We all have different stories, but we don’t have to understand someone else’s pain in order to honour it.

  2. Diana Trautwein 3rd September, 2013 at 9:14 pm #

    Wow, Abby. This is powerful and true and so very helpful. Thank you! And thank you, Tanya, for giving her the space to write this out today. I cannot imagine a better space for this essay, as a matter of fact.

    • Abby Norman 5th September, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

      Isn’t Tanya the greatest? So flattered she let me post here.

  3. Hazel 3rd September, 2013 at 6:35 pm #

    I love this, it is such a powerful and touching description of your suffering with people’s lack of understanding as well as your own illness. Thank you for writing so openly about it and letting us know something of your struggle.

  4. Rachel 3rd September, 2013 at 6:10 pm #


    “Not recognizing my pain as valid, made me feel invisible. It let me know my experience did not matter.” But, “I can honor others’ pain.” Yeah, just this. It’s so true. Being sick with chronic Epstein Barr Virus for four years (at least the ones known for sure) and other “invisible illnesses” makes it difficult to connect with people. The way I have to do life, for now, is very different from how many live. Thank you for writing.

    • Abby Norman 4th September, 2013 at 12:55 am #

      I had that diagnosis at one point. Praying wisdom for you.

  5. Tanya 3rd September, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

    Love this piece. I also have ME / fibro and sometimes I sortof forget and plan stuff then rub up a sore point and remember. Your post reminds me gently but correctly that others invisible pain affects our interactions. Thank you

  6. Mark Allman 3rd September, 2013 at 1:48 pm #

    It is always great to see my friends from the blog world friends with each other. Two of my favorites here in one place. 🙂

    I thought these were outstanding comments on how we should consider the pain of others:

    a. suffering; no one can experience anyone else’s

    b. not recognizing my pain as valid, made me feel invisible

    c. I don’t get to decide what hurts other people.

    d. honoring someone’s pain can sometimes heal that pain

    It is holy to honor their pain and I would add regardless what kind of pain that it. Sometimes the best gift you can give someone is to believe them or believe in them. The other thing about pain is when someone is hurting from an emotional pain then it can manifest in physical pain and physical pain can manifest in emotional pain.

    No one should have to suffer alone. No one should bear the burden of pain by themselves. Who is immune to pain? It bothers me that we all suffer from some pain or another and we have at times so little compassion for the pain of others. We may fail to recognize that one pain may magnify another. Someone’s pain of loneliness may magnify the pain of an insult that they are caused to bear.

    If we cause pain we should feel obligated to make amends regardless of our thoughts on the legitimacy or depth of that pain. We should push away our judgments on another’s pain by doing what you say Abby and honor their pain in whatever appropriate way possible.

    • Abby Norman 4th September, 2013 at 12:53 am #

      Thank you so much for this encouragement.

  7. Leigh Kramer 3rd September, 2013 at 1:43 pm #

    Abby, I love the way you’ve written this! Such a good powerful reminder about how to honor someone’s pain.

    • Abby Norman 4th September, 2013 at 12:52 am #

      I am so glad you spelled honor our way! (hehe, love you Tanya.)


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