Like Clark Kent, David Roberts lived a secret life. But instead of a superhero's cape, his tailored suit hid the uniform of someone living with chronic pain: a "corset heat wrap," "lace-up ankle brace and a strap velcroed around" his knee. David, a former academic physicist and diplomat, wrote about his battle with pain and his double identity in a recent article in The New York Times.
In The Secret Life of Pain, he details the decade he spent hiding "the unexplained pain that racked my back and joints." But as David's pain became worse and more taxing to conceal, he fessed up to the doctors at the embassy where he was then working. "They deemed me unfit for work and medevac'ed me from Bangkok back to the United States for treatment," he writes. Eventually, David landed at Mayo Clinic, where for a month doctors "pushed, prodded and ran their tests," he writes, but found "nothing remarkable."
Seemingly out of options, David then "joined the other no-hopers" at Mayo's Pain Rehabilitation Center, enrolling in a three-week, multidisciplinary program designed to help people living with chronic pain. There, he eventually found hope.
"Chronic pain, unlike the acute variety, was treated as a malfunction in perception, whether or not an ongoing physical cause had been identified," he writes. Initially, David was skeptical of some of the program's theories and practices. But the more he learned, "the more sense it made," he writes. He was encouraged to trade in his braces and other props for breathing exercises and other stress-management techniques. "And gradually, I could feel my relationship with the pain change," David writes. A few months later, he was able to sit through a movie at a theater for the first time in years.
Today, nearly three years after completing the program, David is no longer hiding a secret identity. While he still experiences some pain, it is not the debilitating and constant companion it used to be. "I not only look the part of a healthy man, but manage to act it," he writes. And, there's no longer anything hiding beneath his work attire. Those props are now "carefully boxed away in my closet, out of view."
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