Intense, disturbing, honest, and emotionally wrought – the words I would use to describe Jennifer Aniston’s most recent performance. Cake, for perhaps the first time in my movie-going experience, took me to a place so visceral, yet uncontrived, that I felt she understood my life…maybe even had seen me in some of my darkest hours.

I have some pain-causing conditions, Dermatomyositis, chronic Migraines, and Fibromyalgia. Thankfully, after years of chronic pain I have found some relief through natural modalities, diet, and getting the underlying physical causes under control. But the echo and memory of my suffering is etched into the DNA of my cells. That pain that, at times, took away my ability to function normally, made me angry, made me weep, led me to depression, and felt inescapable. Pain so intense that I developed medicine dependencies at different times of my life, dependencies, meaning I couldn’t live with out them. Not because I was chemically addicted, but because the pain was so forceful that meds only scratched the surface and to be without them in my system meant physical agony.

It is difficult to explain what chronic pain feels like. Yes, we all know what “pain” feels like, it can be terrible, debilitating, and miserable…but most pain is temporary. Chronic pain is different.

  • It’s like being under water, feeling your chest start to close in from the pressure, with the fear that you won’t reach the surface in time to breathe.
  • It’s like the endless sound and sensation of metal scraping against your teeth when nothing is there and seemingly, no way to stop it.
  • It’s like having a full-body tourniquet on twenty-four hours a day, which is constantly being pulled tighter and tighter.

Your body begins to feel alien and scary, as if you are a prisoner, stuck inside, speaking the wrong language, begging for mercy to a full room of people just staring at you. Every movement takes courage, every exertion takes your breath away, and every task seems insurmountable. Chronic pain leaves you feeling tattered, alone, and helpless.

I went to see Cake hoping it would show the truth about chronic pain and its pervasiveness. I wasn’t disappointed. You can see the truth of pain on her face when she has to hoist her whole body, breath held, to make the smallest movements. You can see the truth of pain in her desperation to procure more pills when she runs out. You can see the truth of pain when she is lying still in bed and has sweet moments of relief followed by crashing waves of torment. You can see the truth of pain in the way that she pushes her anger onto others because her suffering is so complete that she cannot keep it in. And yes, you can see the truth of pain in the way that others perceive her as milking it, faking it, or just not trying hard enough.

I don’t know that Cake will completely change the world’s perception of chronic pain. But I hope, through its rawness and honesty, people will have more compassion for its sufferers.

Originally printed on (2015). All Rights Reserved.