Recently a commenter called me out for saying, “It will get better.” The commenter’s point is that pain doesn’t get better for everyone and saying “It gets better,” is a lie; and, I can see how it could be somewhat dismissive of an individual’s experience. I understand this commenter’s complaint. I understand that just saying, “It gets better,” can sound just as trite as, “Turn that frown upside down.” So let’s talk about when things don’t get better. Let’s talk about the nuance of what to say when pain is not getting better.
Pain May Not Get Better — It Really Hasn’t for Me
The reason I understand this person’s complaint so well is because I’ve spent years where it hasn’t gotten better. I’ve spent years in a prolonged depression. For me, medication quells the hypomania almost entirely but it barely touches the depression I live with. Depression and I have been bedmates for 10 years and almost no day has seen us apart. I. Get. It.
That said, my life has been a lot longer than 10 years. That means that 10 years ago something happened. Ten years ago something changed. Ten years ago it got different.
Pain May Not Get Better But Pain Always Changes
For a very short stint, 10 years ago, I felt like a human. I felt like a person who felt things. I felt like a person who experienced happiness. This was a very, very big change. I had gone from suicidal to joy-experiencing within a matter of weeks because of the addition of a medication to my regimen. At the time, no part of me thought that medication would because I had been on it before and it hadn’t worked. However, my psychiatrist felt it was worth another try because it was in a different combo. And lo and behold, he was right. The medication was like magic. So after years of pain and suffering — it had gotten better.
But the thing is, it didn’t stay that way. I was well for a matter of a few months. And that was it. The medication stopped working and in spite of alterations to my treatment, it has been like that ever since. It had gotten different — just not in my favor. Because the only constant in life is change. Sometimes it’s change we like and sometimes it isn’t, but change keeps occurring nonetheless.
Pain Can Get Better
That experience taught me that pain can get better. There is absolutely nothing special about it and nothing really special about that medication cocktail either. It’s just that things got different and the pain got better. And even though it was so long ago and even though there has been so much pain since, I cling to that experience, I cling to those months because I know that if it could happen once, it can happen again. And believe me when I tell you that if it could happen to me, then it can happen to you too. No matter how bad the pain, no matter how long the pain has been there, it can get better for you too. I know this to be true.
Saying ‘It Gets Better’
So, it’s not so much true that pain will get better, it’s more true that pain will get different. Certainly, my pain is not identical today to what it was 10 years ago. My pain is different. It’s not necessarily better, but it is different.
I guess it is more accurate to say that pain will change and pain does get better. I truly believe that if you live long enough you will experience it getting better to some degree. That, of course, is a belief rather than a fact, however.
I wish I could make “better” happen for you tomorrow. I wish I could make “better” happen for me tomorrow. But, of course, I can’t.
Now, when talking to people in pain, it’s hard to explain all of this in a short, cogent fashion. I do mean it though. I will try to do better and say that it can get better and it will change rather than simply saying, “It will get better.” I do not want to be trite and I do not want to write off anyone’s experience. I know that pain can be long and horrific and it absolutely feels unending. I feel that pain every day. But I’m not wrong that it will change. I’m not wrong about the consistency of change. So hang on. Hang tight. Change is coming. I promise.