Chronic Pain Suffering and the Actor

I am an actor.

I am also a chronic pain sufferer. I consider the pain to be mine entirely, and I don’t believe anyone else should suffer for it. I am a decent enough actor that most people have no idea I am in pain unless I tell them. Chronic pain is funny; a person has to learn to live with it, learn to work despite it, or the sufferer will perish. In my line of work, too, you don’t want to walk into audition rooms looking cranky and feeling sorry for yourself or you won’t get hired. People generally like to hire people who will make the work day run smoothly, not the other way around (no, I can’t explain why people continue to hire Paul Haggis.)

So, my acting skills come into play well before I start reading anything from the script. I have to act like I’m not in pain. That goes for my social life, too. I kind of like people, not a hundred percent, but if I’m hanging out with them I don’t want them to get depressed from my very presence. I don’t talk about it much. What’s the point? I went to therapy for years in trying to deal with it, and guess what? It didn’t make the pain go away. (Nor did anti-depressants, surgery, managed pain medication, other neurological medications, heart medications, acupuncture, herbal remedies, spiritual healers, friendly advice, or Botox injections. Yes, you read that right. Botox injections.) So talking about it is really only a bummer. Sometimes I have no choice but to express to my loved ones how I feel when the pain is most ferocious. If I do get snippy, which I am mostly great at not getting, then they need to know what is happening.

In any event, it happens from time to time. I will mention it. Perhaps somebody else will. Sometimes my wife talks about it. I think maybe it’s more important to her that others know than it is to me. In an odd way, it is something we can be proud of. I’ve lived with a “New Persistent Daily Headache” for twelve years. Sometimes it is an absolute nightmare and sometimes it isn’t that bad, but it never goes away. (The no complete relief element is what makes it most maddening.) I was hanging out with some good friends the other night, and one of them mentioned it. The other one said he had no idea I was a chronic pain sufferer. I could have sworn I’d talked to him before about it, but I could be wrong. If I did, though,  I can imagine he might forget. Because I rarely let on. And then I get the usual questions:

“So you get a headache every day?” No, I have a headache all the time. It never goes away.

“How do you live like that? I can’t imagine.” I just do.

“Have you tried acupuncture.” Yes. Multiple times. Doesn’t do any good.

“I had no idea.” I try not to make a big deal out of it.

It’s hard, I think, for some people to even empathize with my plight. It’s not like I have a visible reason for pain, a clear injury of some kind. I just look like a guy who you might occasionally see on television.

Acting hasn’t made me rich or famous. Which is fine. But it has made me incredibly good at suffering pain. So I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice. I guess.


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