DEAR ABBY: I have lived my entire life in constant pain. My childhood was rough. Now that I am an adult, I want to share some truths that I wish someone had shared with me -- in the hope that they will help a child who is struggling with physical or psychological pain today:
(1) Sometimes you feel like you're the only person in the world who knows what you are going through. You are right, because no one else can know what your specific pain feels like. However, other children have had experiences similar to what you are going through, and you don't have to face things alone.
(2) There are times you are going to be angry. That's only natural. What's happening to you is not fair, and it's OK to be angry about it. However, you must learn to deal with your anger and not lash out at others or become self-destructive.
(3) Sometimes you are going to be depressed. If it persists longer than two weeks, ask an adult for help -- a parent, a teacher or your doctor. If the first adult can't help you, KEEP ASKING. Depression makes everything harder than it should be. You can defeat it, but not alone.
(4) You have a right to understand what's wrong with you, what the doctors are doing about it, what medications you are on, and what the side effects might feel like. Sometimes adults want to "protect" children from the facts. They don't realize that what your imagination can conjure up will be far worse than the truth.
(5) If your treatment makes you feel bad, talk to your doctor about it. If you feel a doctor is not taking your problems seriously, immediately tell your parents or another responsible adult.
(6) Most of all, DON'T GIVE UP, even if you feel the odds are against you. Decide on a dream worth fighting for. Break your goals into small, doable steps -- and take one step at a time. You might not reach your goal, but if you don't try to get somewhere, you'll get nowhere.
Abby, I don't design rockets like I once dreamed of doing, but I do have my college degree, a good job and a loving spouse. While my life might be filled with physical pain, it's also filled with a greater amount of joy. Sign me ... SMILING THROUGH THE PAIN
DEAR SMILING: Thank you for an inspiring letter. I'm not surprised that you're smiling. You are a winner. And today, you have helped more people -- of all ages -- than you'll ever know.
DEAR ABBY: Can you tell me how to mend an American flag? Ours is badly torn in two places. We put it up shortly after Sept. 11 and have flown it on its brass flagpole ever since. We want to treat it with respect, but don't know if there is a specific protocol. Please help. -- PATRIOTS IN CARBONDALE, ILL.
DEAR PATRIOTS: When a flag is damaged or faded, it should be retired and replaced. According to the American Legion Flag Etiquette brochure: "When a flag has served its useful purpose, it should be destroyed, preferably by burning. For individual citizens this should be done discreetly so that the act of destruction is not perceived as a protest or desecration."
Many American Legion Posts conduct Disposal of Unserviceable Flag ceremonies on June 14, Flag Day, each year. There is a Web site: www.legion.org. (Click on "Our Flag.") This ceremony provides a dignified and solemn way of disposing of unserviceable flags.
For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)
4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600