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Make Connections During Pain Awareness Month

September is National Pain Awareness Month, but for Angel Diaz Olea, the pain began about 10 years ago.

"I started to feel pain in my feet and my shoulders," Mr. Olea said. "I continued working, but it started to get harder to get out of bed. The more I did things, the worse I got."

As the aches and pains in his body worsened, Mr. Olea, a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service for 17 years, withdrew from friends, family and social events. "If I was okay today, I didn't know tomorrow how I would wake up," he said.

According to the National Institutes of Health, common causes of chronic pain include:

Autoimmune diseases such as lupus, multiple sclerosis and scleroderma also cause chronic pain.

So, what was the root of  Mr. Olea's pain?  A rheumatologist eventually diagnosed him with fibromyalgia. 

The conditions that cause chronic pain vary widely, but individuals living with chronic pain share similar experiences. 

"Whether it is fibromyalgia or another condition that causes chronic pain, we all go through the same process," said Gwenn Herman, founder of the nonprofit organization, Pain Connection. "There is grief, loss, changes to your family, career, your whole life. We try to help people 'normalize' and live in the present. That is one of the hardest things to do."

Chronic pain affects about 100 million American adults-more than the total affected by heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined, according to the Institute of Medicine. Despite its prevalence, individuals living with chronic pain often feel isolated and alone. Caregivers for those living with chronic pain can experience feelings of isolation as well.

"Pain Awareness Month essentially creates hope and compassion for those with pain, reminding them they are heard, validated and never alone," said Paul Gileno, founder and president, of the U.S. Pain Foundation.

"Every September I feel more optimistic that our collective voice is making an impact," he said. "That we are somehow getting closer to that moment when the topic of pain care is at the forefront of healthcare, and pain is not looked upon with a stigma but as a real disease."

During Pain Awareness Month in September, break through the isolation and connect with organizations and individuals who understand the challenges of living with chronic pain.

Click here for Allsup's explanation of Social Security's five-step process to determine if a chronic pain patient qualifies for SSDI.