My name is MacKenzie and I am a sister to someone with chronic pain. It began in 2004 with my fingers shoved into my ears and pillow over my head, trying to drown out the sound of my little brother crying and throwing up in the bathroom across the hall. This wasn’t a one-night occurrence. He didn’t have the flu; he hadn’t gotten food poisoning from a bad meal. There was something seriously wrong and it would take 10+ years of countless doctors, hospitals, medications and surgeries to figure it out. Now, two organs lighter, a social life recovering and a nightstand finally cleared from pain relievers, my brother has learned to deal with his chronic pain and I’ve learned to understand it.  

When my little brother started dealing with chronic pain, I lost my best friend. We would play together until his cheeks flushed bright red and he’d shut down, lash out and hide away. Increasingly, hiding away became his reaction to the pain- isolating him from friends, family, school, sports, and me. Pain snowballed into insomnia, isolation and depression. Yet behind his closed bedroom doors, for me, his pain wasn’t real. I couldn’t see a wound and there was no direct diagnosis from a doctor so, in my eyes, my little brother was just being a little brother: faking it. Truly understanding my brother’s pain was a long journey which, at times, cost me my relationship with my brother. For brothers and sisters, communication often comes in the form of teasing and tormenting with love hidden between the pokes and jabs. With my brother’s chronic pain, we both had to learn to communicate in a new way.  

If asked what “helped” my brother the most, my answer is not the doctors, medications, or therapy sessions, it’s music. My brother learned to communicate and handle his pain through music. At night, when the pain was the worst, he would play guitar endlessly. He is now a phenomenal musician and can play any song instantly by ear. Music gave my brother control, pain relief, confidence, community and it gave me a relationship with my brother again.  

Pain is not individual. My brother’s pain trickled into all aspects of my family’s life and I am so thankful for CHYP’s work to create a community of people dealing with pain, personally or through a loved-one. I’m also grateful for the realization that mental health and physical health are intimately connected and that healing comes in many different forms. My brother’s relationship to music plays a big role in his life with chronic pain and it played a big role in reconnecting me with my best friend.  

P.S. A big shout out to  Dan Reynolds,  Jason Mraz,  John Mayer,  Ed Sheeran, and others for the songs that got my brother through the hardest times.