Journey to Brave: The Realities of Daily Pain

{Art journaling by Jennifer LeBlanc 2012. All Rights Reserved.}

Pain is an opportunity to practice courage.

People have told me how amazed they are that I continue smiling through the pain. That's not always the case, and this picture was taken to prove that. I post it with trepidation. It's not pretty. Neither is severe pain or living with it.

The picture on the left was taken on my way to church with my family. This is what people often see. I'm done up and out. I look 'normal.' I am likely in significant pain even when I look like the left picture. What people don't see is the effort it takes to get the pain under control and get myself looking like this and get out the door. The picture on the right is what people rarely see. This was taken the other night while I was in a severe episode of Costochondritis, a frequent symptom I have, when the inflammation flares in my sternum, rib cage and chest. This particular attack was my spine, ribs, chest, sternum, all the way around, front, back and sides. I literally felt "IN pain." I was inside of it and it held me in its clutches as if I were a bird in a cage. Costochondritis is commonly described as feeling like you are having a heart attack or an elephant is sitting on your chest. It's incredibly painful and makes every breath painful as well.

If it helps you to understand better, check out this image.

The chest is made up of many, many bones and joints. I could feel every single one.

I do not write this for your sympathy or pity. I do not write this to complain. My reason for posting this is to help raise awareness. Because I am just one of the mass of people out there living with daily pain. 

If you are one of those with chronic pain, I write this for you. I write this to say, "You are not alone!" 

{My daughter drew this picture to illustrate an elephant on Mommy's chest}
Pain takes its toll, especially severe pain. It is difficult, and sometimes not possible, to live a normal life of responsibilities and activities when pain is part of your daily reality. 

Please understand that we are not lazy if we sleep more than you do. We are not "lucky" to have frequent rest times. I cannot tell you how frustrating it is for me, as a person who thrives on being productive, to have to rest while life all around me doesn't stop.

And because life doesn't stop for chronic pain and illness, as it might temporarily pause for those who take a sick day from work, I have to learn what I can and cannot manage. I have pain every day, 24/7. I honestly can no longer remember what pain-free feels like. So please understand if I cannot watch your kids, lead out in activities or events, or if I have to cancel our afternoon get-together or play date.

I cannot express what a gift it is when people don't judge. When you say, "I'd love to get together but please feel free to cancel if you're having a bad day." When you're at the store and you text me to see if I need something picked up. These are real life examples of things my friends have done for me in the last week. You are a gift to me. Your understanding, or willingness to try to understand, is not something I take for granted. Thank you!

I firmly believe that if you just look for them, there will always be more blessings than struggles.


  1. Very thoughtful. I'm glad there are folks around to help & I hope you *feel* all the love & support you get from your FB pals.

  2. Jenn,
    I am so thankful for you. Thankful for your authenticity. Thankful for your strength in weakness. Thankful for your depth of character. Thankful for the way in which you love and guide even when you yourself need love and guidance in a particular day. I am so thankful that you are my person I can text and email when I am in a flare. I know you won't judge or brush it off. Rather you will pray, simpathise and just be present. I am thankful for you. I love you, Xiomara

  3. Jen, this is a beautiful piece, and YOU are beautiful in BOTH pictures! Your beauty stems from your courage and your sensitivity and from your pain.

  4. What a wonderful post and blog. I too have Costochondritis bestowed upon me by Rita, my Rheumatoid Arthritis. It is the worst feeling ever. Especially the cracking and popping portion when you try and move or breathe. Best of luck to you and I hope you feel a bit better soon.

  5. Truth, brave sister, truth. So proud of you living the real. Love you!

  6. Thank you for your vulnerability. It is difficult for those who only see us at our best to understand what we are going through unless we show and tell them. That has been my experience--even with those whom I was living with didn't understand or get it. They see us looking "fine" and assume that's how we always are and nothing could be further from the truth!

  7. I admire you strength and courage to be honest here with all of us. I too endure immense physical pain for other reasons but nevertheless I need compassion and understanding from others too...especially those in my extended family. I hate how this disease affects those I love the most and I often wonder if they resent me for it. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Thanks for sharing Jen. I admire you. I want to say how much I enjoy your posts and writings. Your friendship is real and you are a great inspiration. Take courage.

  9. Wonderful Jenn. So very true. And I agree. Costochondritis pain is one of the worst pains I've ever felt. I always tell the story of when it was bad for me and I had zero pain meds on hand. I drug myself to work. I was desperately trying to move carefully and slowly and trying to survive the day. A co-worker came to my desk to ask a question. I took a breath as I prepared to answer and the pain sky rocketed. I burst into tears as it was just my body's immediate response. The director who sat behind me turned around and was about to rip my co-worker into pieces as he thought he must have said something horrible to me to make me cry. I actually drove myself home...yet another stupid thing I've done. And called my dr in such tears that the nurse was extremely worried about me. I've never had zero pain meds on hand since then.

    And on the topic in general... I am reading a book my dr co-wrote called "But you don't look sick." I get "but you look great". I hate that. People mean it as a compliment but really it means I hear you saying you are really ill but I just can't see it in your face. And they are trying to resolve the discrepancy. People think of illness as acute illness. You get sick. You fight it. You survive or die. They don't think of illness as chronic illness, which you and I both know is the attempt at a full and happy life even though you are severely ill every day for the rest of that life.

    You know we are all here for you on the good and bad days. The days you feel radiant and beautiful and the days you don't feel that way. And you know we all know there are days where you are both all at once.

  10. Jen, hear me here girl: You. Are. BEAUTIFUL.
    And I mean BOTH of those pictures.

  11. Dear Jenn, I wish everyone with chronic pain could read this post. I wish everyone with chronic illness could read this post. I wish everyone with permanent disability could read this post. The words "You are not alone" are so powerful. I think pain of any sort--physical, mental, emotional--is by nature isolating, partly because as it saps our resources, it becomes so much more difficult for us to connect with others. Thank you for speaking out. I always want to understand you more, and I'm so thankful you share your writing and your art. Thank you for not judging me. Your words unlock in me more grace toward myself as well. You are a gift to me and so many other people. Love you! Wendy

  12. "Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we will ever do" ~ Brene Brown You are so beautifully brave! Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you. As I think I read in a comment somewhere, when you open up like this you help all of us who read it open up more too. And the world is a better place. ((hugs))

  13. Bravo! beautiful lady!! Bravo!!
    I am so glad to see all these responses here. After my "what you don't see" post on One Moment One Life I received a lot of the same supportive comments and it was really a turning point for me in regards to "truth". I've spent a lot of time re-evaluating things (especially when it comes to the blog) and what I write. I think we are very much a like in that our desire is to pass along hope and strength and to not fall into the "complain game". But humans hunger for truth. And the fact is that you are a beautiful person - it's not in your nature to make your illness your crutch. So combine your personality with truth and honesty and you get exactly what you just posted - and THAT is what people need to hear. Both to be supportive TO you AND to find comfort FROM you.
    You are traveling this journey with Grace, my dear. And you are so beautiful.

  14. Thank you so much for posing this! Sometimes I feel so guilty about not being able to keep up with others. Sometimes I think my friends have a hard time understanding. It's hard to understand if you haven't been through it. You hit the nail on the head.

  15. I'm so sorry you have to live with chronic pain and debilitating prospects. I wish I could blow tender kisses of healing to everyone who suffers -- and there are so many (including me!) It's amazing that you're able to focus as much as possible on the good, the brave, the beautiful. That's very hard when one is in constant pain. Thank you for being an encourager. May you find those who will encourage you, as well. Be blessed by God.

  16. I posted as guest, since none of the other choices for commenting, worked.

  17. Just came across your wonderful blog. It is so comforting knowing someone feels the exact same way I do. Take care:)


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