Last week, one of my worst nightmares came true (worse, because let’s face it: I have a big, imaginative brain, and I have plenty of nightmares in stock.) I was due to get on a plane, to commence a 9-10 hour journey to where I live; it was a stressful week, and the night before, I was unable to sleep, no matter how hard I tried. When my alarm went off, I tried getting up – and I was in so much pain I could barely stand.
I’ve been open about living with a congenital disorder, but what I haven’t really gotten into is how vulnerable I can get when even a common affliction – like a cold – turns nasty. Fevers are especially bad for me – cold shivers, delirium, and joint pain are a doozy by themselves but put them all together and it’s hell on Earth.
I was due to get on a plane in three hours. I could barely bend down to put on my socks.
The reason I’m telling you this story is this: I get it. Platitudes that your pain will one day end are all well and good, but they ring hollow for a person who is in agony right now. Yes, your pain will end one day… eventually… but right now it feels like it will not, and the last thing you need is some patronizing Internet writer telling you to just breathe and get through it.
So. Let’s not do that.
The urge to deny pain, to laugh through tears, to grin and bear it, is an admirable one; but it can quickly become a tyrannical denial that we are in pain at all. We’re told to suck it up and move on so much, eventually, we start doing it to ourselves.
I’m getting through the pain. In fact, there is no pain at all. I’m not going to be mad, sad, or otherwise negative, because there is nothing to be negative about!
Who does that help? Where does it end? Will we eventually get to a point where we walk around with bloodied noses and broken legs, saying “Fake News” when someone tries to help? We’re already doing that – more or less – when the pain is emotional or related to a mental health difficulty. I’m saying this with all the love in the world: Don’t. Fucking. Deny. Your. Pain.
Denial makes wounds fester.
Healing comes from facing them head-on.
Worrying that your pain will never stop is not at all surprising – pain sucks; of course, you want it to end. And pain is tricky – it can make you feel like it’s all there is out there, that it would never go away, that you are stuck with it. But let me tell you something – even if the pain is around to stay, you can face it. You can live with it.
That awful morning, I thought about missing my flight, paying the penalty, and just being absent from work. It seemed like the path of least resistance; but as it turned out, the penalty was not one that I could afford to pay. So instead I took a deep breath, took my medicine, prayed that it would work, and got on a taxi to the airport. On the drive there, I wrote on social media asking for support, and my friends, bless their hearts, came through with love and support and reminders to call them when I was safely home.
I won’t tell you that things magically got better; that day sucked really hard. But I got through it – eventually, the fever went down, the pain abated, and I was even able to get some shut-eye between the two legs of my journey. I got through it, even though I felt extremely sorry for myself the whole way through – why me? Won’t this ever end? Why am I always alone in the pain?
Of course, I got no answer. There is no answer. Pain is as random as the weather – even when you can sometimes predict it, there is no 100% guarantee you will never face it.
Remember this, though: Even if the pain is around to stay, you can face it. You can be honest with it. You don’t have to be brave or selfless or deny that it’s happening. You don’t have to express pretty feelings all the time or hide when you’re sad or petulant or melodramatic. You don’t have to deny your pain. But you have to face it.
And you can.
We all can. We’re doing it right now.