How can I get my spouse, coworker, boss, friends, or family to understand? This is one of the most common questions I hear regarding the nature of trigeminal and glossopharyngeal nerualgias. The answer, regardless of who asks it, is the same. You cannot make someone who has not contended with this type of pain to “get it.”

You can, however, ask them to accept the reality of your situation. Before we discuss that, let us talk about why we should concentrate on their acceptance rather than their understanding.

We ask the people around us to have empathy for us, to put themselves in our shoes. I ask you to do the same. Remember when you had never heard of trigeminal or glossopharyngeal neuralgia? Such pain would have sounded incredulous, and indeed it is.

In all my conversations about these cranial nerve disorders (before, during, and after my working at TNA, the Facial Pain Association) I have never told anyone about my first exposure to facial pain. I was young, in my 20’s. I was eating dinner at a friend’s house, hanging out in the kitchen with another guest. She explained that she had a nerve in her face that caused her horrible pain when she…

I have to use an ellipsis in the previous sentence because I cannot remember what she said after that. Although she spoke with a calm demeanor, her message terrified me. I left the kitchen, telling myself that she must be crazy. I hoped she was. To believe she might be sane meant that this horrible thing could happen to anyone, even meI refused to entertain the possibility. But now I ask myself how many people walked away from that perfectly nice woman, leaving her alone as I did.

When we ask someone to accept our situation, we are asking them to do something easier than to understand. We apply the formula from the movie What about Bob? Baby steps, baby steps. Let us discuss some of them.

Present the individual with a concise explanation of trigeminal or glossopharygeal neuralgia, depending on which disorder(s) you have. For people who have atypical or neuropathic facial pain, find the most definitive information you can. Be selective, using information that describes your symptoms. Do not give more than a full page of text to read. Allow them time to digest it. Then expose them to factual presentations of personal experience.

Find an audiovisual presentation. These are on YouTube and other sites, such as The Facial Pain Association’s. Attend a webinar or support group meeting together. If possible, go to a conference hosted by TNA, the Facial Pain Association or a similar group.

Some people will refuse to accept the plight of an individual who has facial pain, even if they love the person who has the disorder. Hardheartedness is not something we can change in another person.

Counseling, if he or she will go, can open the door for acceptance. If you pursue this route, go alone first to ensure you have an empathic counselor who will research and accept your disability. Make sure he or she knows how to pronounce it. It can provide some validity for you.

Everyone who has facial pain needs an advocate. It does not have to be someone who understands, but it must be someone who accepts.

I would like to hear from you. Please tell us what helped someone accept or understand your pain.

God bless you.