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Processing Parental Pain

May 21, 20233 min read

"It is through facing our pain that we can find our strength and resilience." Brené Brown

I have practiced medicine for many years and have immobilized broken bones, stitched open wounds, and sent patients to the operating room for surgeons to perform appendectomies. I have become good at diagnosing and treating pain. I, though, was terrible at diagnosing and treating my own pain.

The moment that Kyleigh was diagnosed with diabetes, life changed. From that point forward, life would be filled with thoughts of insulin and carbs. I would be busy ordering medical supplies and taking Kyleigh to medical appointments. Uninterrupted nights of sleep would become impossible. I knew I could do it because I held the belief that life happens exactly as it should. I knew I was supposed to be her mom and supposed to be a parent of a diabetic child because that is what was happening. The universe didn’t make mistakes. But even with this confidence, I was in pain.

I felt a deep sadness and a profound sense of worry. I tried to limp along like an injured athlete who was ignoring an injury. In retrospect, I was bad at diagnosing my pain because doing so would be admitting something was wrong. I felt like admitting pain would be admitting weakness. I wanted to brush it off before someone caught on that I was injured. Instead of diagnosing it, my pain was left to fester.

We have the ability to react, resist, or process emotions. I was resisting experiencing my emotions and I sank deeper. This is similar to someone attempting to keep a beach ball under water: they may be successful keeping it below the water’s surface for a period of time, but eventually it would come flying up. As a doctor, I know that ignoring physical pain could create a bigger problem and it is more beneficial to figure out the underlying cause like an infection or fractured bone. I, though, continued to ignore my own emotional pain and witnessed it spread, impacting other areas of my life.

It is normal for parents of a child with chronic illness to feel pain. This pain is due to grieving the loss of a life that they had once anticipated and are now forced to embrace a different life. Pain is result of watching their child suffer and feeling that suffering through their recurring thoughts of worry. We are expected to be happy or excited for our child’s challenges. It is anticipated that we will feel this pain, but there is hope that it doesn’t define us. Becoming aware of cause of the pain and processing these emotions will prevent pain from consuming our lives.

I still feel sad that my daughter has diabetes and I still feel worried about her blood sugar highs and lows. I, though, do not let the pain from these emotions impact my relationships, my career, or my zest for life. I have processed the emotional pain and I thrive knowing that it is no longer kept below the water’s surface.

Do you manage your pain or does your pain manage you?

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Maureen Michele, MD

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