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Introduction to Chronic Pain Awareness Month

Introduction to Chronic Pain Awareness Month

Last year, the concept of a ‘Chronic Pain Awareness Month’ was introduced to New Zealand. The concept was originally launched in the USA, in order to promote awareness and understanding of those with Chronic Pain Conditions. It has been running since at least 2005, and has spawned countless websites, foundations and organisations who are committed to improving the care and understanding of those with Chronic Pain

Chronic Pain is not like regular, or acute, pain. Acute pain comes with an injury to the body – a burn, cut, or bruise, a broken bone – and is an indication to the brain something is wrong, and care needs to be taken in order to allow healing. Chronic Pain occurs when something in the communication between the brain and the central nervous system goes wrong, and pain signals start occurring where there should be none. Simple sensations – a breeze, for instance, or a light touch – can become close to unbearable. Chronic pain is also present in conditions like Cancer, where the treatment is also poisonous to the body, and can cause untreatable, immeasurable pain.

Some chronic pain conditions are fairly well known and funded, such as arthritis. Others, such as lupus, fibromyalgia, and other chronic regional pain syndromes, less is known about. I have had fibromyalgia now for 13 years, and its only in the last two where new acquaintances have actually heard of it before meeting me.

Because pain is invisible and hard to measure, it carries a stigma. I know of many people who have gone undiagnosed for 30 years or more for the simple reason that their symptoms did not make sense to doctors, or were filed as ‘psychosomatic’ (the brain producing symptoms in the body with no physical cause).

When I was first diagnosed, fibro was known as ‘yuppie flu’, and even now I encounter doctors, therapists, friends and even family who believe it is something I’m making up because I want the attention. I have heard many stories from those with chronic pain about being disbelieved, mistreated and maligned because of the invisible nature of their illness, and I’ve experienced a fair amount of it myself – but I’ve also spoken to and met people who give me hope because of their attitude and determination to take control of their lives, pain or no.

When pain is treated properly and well managed, people can to varying degrees resume their lives. Successful pain management is tailored to the individual, but even for those who have been diagnosed there is little awareness of the resources available in New Zealand, or the methods they could be using themselves to improve their pain levels and their lives. It is very much down to self management, and since last year I’ve had a lot of correspondence from people thanking me for showing them they weren’t alone in their struggle, and offering information or advice to help others in the group. A strong support network – even if it is accessed mostly by internet – can make all the difference in the world

Most people with chronic pain are desperate to experience relief, to return to some level of functionality and to be able to once again support themselves, and Pain Awareness Month aims to enable them to find the tools they require to do so.

Despite the need for more awareness, Pain Awareness Month is at heart an art competition – an opportunity for those with pain and those who know, love and support those with chronic pain to share their point of view without fear of the common reactions such conversations can bring – anger, fear, or blatant disbelief. Art is impartial, and easier to take on board impartially than seeing your daughter writhing in pain and being unable to help. The competition is a forum to get people talking about pain in a non-confrontational way, and hopefully share some knowledge along the way.

The theme this year is Metamorphosis – to show how Chronic Pain, yours or someone else’s, has helped or forced you to grow. We have the Manager of the NZ Art Guild, Sophia Elise on board again this year as one of the Judges, and last year raised $450 pure profit from the charity auction which caps off the competition, with the proceeds going to the charity of the artist’s choice. We contributed to the Wellington ME/CFS Support Group in Wellington, the Leprosy Mission, and brought over $250 worth of books for The Auckland Regional Pain Centre at Greenlane hospital.

Your support is needed to make Pain Awareness Month bigger and better than ever. We are looking for prizes both for the daily awards and for the final winners of the competition. We need sponsorship towards more advertising and publicity, we have yet to find funding for posters or the potential t-shirts that have been requested, though we have a graphic designer on board who has designed both. I am also still looking for a venue for the final exhibition, as this year I’m hoping to extend it to one week instead of one night only.

Most of all I need you to help me spread the word in your community about Pain Awareness Month, so people have time to create the pieces they want to, and to follow the goings-on on the website as we lead up to the event.


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