By: Michaela O’Connor

There’s a saying in the chronic pain community, “whoever said no pain, no gain never had chronic pain.” At first, I fully and whole-heartedly agreed with the quote. As a chronic pain patient, I could not see anything I had gained from the constant pain I lived with. I saw this quote again more recently and realized that it was no longer true, at least, not for me. I still understand the meaning of the quote and the endless desire to live without pain; however, I also understand how much I have gained over the past fourteen years, in spite of my pain.

Personally, I have gained and grown so much more than I ever thought possible. I found the strength to survive and eventually, I found the strength to thrive, to help others, and to become a person I am proud of every day. I never thought I could fight in the face of pain and illness but 14 years later, I have survived and become stronger than I ever imagined. I have spent the last seven years of my life trying to help others facing the same adversities I do and can honestly say I’m grateful and proud of the person I’ve become.

Although I occasionally think of what I would do had I not gotten chronic pain, I know it would be nothing compared to what I do now or who I have become because of it. I truly understand the meaning of life and enjoy the little things that mean everything to me. I have gained an understanding, a perspective, and an appreciation for life that most people never will begin to understand. My life is full of simple, small things that mean the world to me, and before my pain, those things would have probably meant nothing to me.

I have gained loyalty, truth, and respect. Every family function I attend, I look around and see “pain warrior” bracelets! No, my entire family and extended family does not live in chronic pain, they are simply supporting me every second of every day. They call me their hero when in fact, my family and friends are the real heroes in my life.

I can’t tell you the number of private hospital rooms I’ve had to be moved to because I had so many visitors, the number of “just thinking of you” cards I get, or how my dad has had to restrict the number of visitors I’ve had per day. Although they do not truly understand my fight, they are beside me every step of the way. To say I’m honored to have seen how my family has become the army that stands behind me every day would be an understatement. They have been through every part of my journey with me and never once have they doubted my ability or strength to pull through. They are cheerleaders, motivators, fighters, and caregivers all in one. I have a family of heroes, and getting to see them in action is nothing short of beautiful.

I have gained a whole pain warrior family. I have had strangers that turned into friends, and friends that turned into family. When another individual truly understands the battle you are facing, you connect with them on a whole new level. They understand you more than your doctors, therapists, and family combined because they too have been right where you are standing and vice versa.

My job gives me the opportunity to constantly meet new pain warriors and share knowledge and information with those in need of help. If I can help one person that is struggling or needs a friendly ear, then I have succeeded more than I ever thought possible. I am truly proud of the work that I do and the friends I have made because of my job. They are the most amazing, inspiring, and fun group of people. My inspiration lives in those individuals and their ability to never give up.

So have I experienced some of the worst pain known to man? Unfortunately, yes, but I have gained so much more than I ever thought possible because of it. I have become a fighter, my family and friends have become my heroes, picking me up when I don’t think I can make it the last step, and strangers have become family. Now when all is said and done, I would do almost anything to take the pain away, but I would never give away the person I am today. “Whoever said no pain, no gain never had chronic pain.” While on the surface, this quote may ring true; however, when you really look at the person you’ve become since your diagnosis, you might be surprised at all you have gained.

Michaela O’Connor is a U.S. Pain staff member and chronic pain warrior and advocate. In 2013, she was chosen to be a participant in the INvisible Project, which led to her becoming a U.S. Pain Ambassador for the state of California. It was through this role that Michaela became an official part of the U.S. Pain’s team. Michaela graduated from the University of California at Davis in 2009 with a BS in Political Science and a double minor in History and War and Peace Studies. She is the proud aunt to her three nephews and four nieces, with whom she spends most of her free time. Michaela resides in Northern California.