In 2010, Nicole Hemmenway was relatively new to activism. She had just written a book describing her journey living with chronic pain and was searching for more ways to become involved with the pain community. Nicole felt certain others would also benefit if they had an avenue to share their stories, too.

However, she recognized that the pain journey was often difficult to describe in words. And she knew she wasn’t alone in feeling this way! Many others could sometimes barely find the strength to explain how they were feeling. One look at their faces, though, and the pain was obvious.

Making the invisible visible

It was while attending a pain summit that Nicole connected with a small organization that would later evolve to become the U.S. Pain Foundation. Nicole partnered with a fellow person with pain who was a professional photographer to create a project that would bring public visibility to the invisible, internal struggles of people living with chronic pain. That first year, nine people were featured in a magazine-style publication, with profiles by Nicole and professional photos, taken on a day in the life of each person.

But Nicole wasn’t satisfied. “We realized that explaining a day in the life of a person with pain through images would necessitate more than a beautiful headshot—more than the edited perspective of a professional photographer’s lens,” says Nicole. “We needed to show the rough spots, the hospital visits and sleepless nights, to really put a face to what a person with chronic pain experiences daily.”

Something they can hold

Thus was born the current version of the INvisible Project magazine, with tens of thousands of copies distributed to patients, caregivers, and health care providers each year. This publication highlights stories and photos from real people about their day-to-day lives.

“A magazine is an easy way to make sure people can access the project, return to it frequently for information and inspiration, and share it with others,” says Nicole. “When people have something they can hold, it feels more real, more reliable, and it can be a strong source of hope.”

Celebrating 10 years

The INvisible Project is now in its 10th year and has published a total of 15 issues. The issues, which began covering chronic pain generally, now focus on a specific theme, ranging from pediatric pain to medical cannabis to migraine disease.

Copies have been distributed across the country to patients, health care providers, policymakers, and to the general public.

INvisible Project on the road

The U.S. Pain Foundation also offers traveling displays in a few different sizes for those who wish to hold awareness events. The photo displays are lightweight and easy to set up, but they have a huge impact at pain awareness events, disability expos, health fairs, medical conferences, and other public events.

U.S. Pain Foundation has even taken the displays to state legislatures, using the opportunity to educate lawmakers as they consider legislation that affects the pain community.

Want to participate?

Do you want to share your story, to educate and inspire others? To put a face to the otherwise invisible challenges you face as a chronic pain patient? We welcome your ideas, and we’re looking for candidates for the next edition of the INvisible Project magazine. Introduce yourself here.