Living a semi-normal life when you are unwell takes all your energy.
Surviving chronic pain has become my job. Trying to not let it affect my mood and personality is a challenge I struggle with daily. So I try to make jokes about it and push off questions about my health. I do not want to be “The Sick Girl,” so I have learned to smile, and function even when my body is on fire, it is only occasionally that I let those outside my family see the agony that has me laying on the floor silently weeping several nights a week.
One of the “job hazards” of living with chronic health conditions that cause pain is never knowing what body you’ll wake up in. I could be fine one day and wake up with shooting, burning pain the next. I could wake up feeling fine and then by noon be in agonizing pain and have to sit down. I could be energetic one day and completely fatigued the next as I fight against my sore body. It brings so much anxiety when the pain sets in when I am out with someone, you don’t want to be the reason we stop or change plans, so you bite your lip.
For many people with medical conditions, chronic pain is a constant, day-to-day companion. It never seems to go unfelt or unnoticed, except to passersby who often see laughter, smiles, and energy, not debilitating pain. If you met me, as a stranger, you would never know. All my medical problems are very internal and unless you pull out a CT, you would never know. The reality of living with and making peace with chronic pain is vastly different from the picture of health the rest of the world may see.
It’s strange to feel like you may not fully know your own body amid its unpredictability, but if you struggle with pain, you learn to treat yourself with care and listen to your needs. It’s hard to tell a difference between being tired and when my blood pressure has dropped extremely low. But I’m learning. I’m learning to figure out what my body needs when it’s hurting. I follow through with managing the pain even when it’s the last thing I want to be doing. I don’t want my physical state to affect me or my loved ones later in the day.
I’m starting to be more gentle with myself and practice self-care. The most important thing to learn and practice, though, is saying no. I tend to feel like I need to do everything for everyone but myself. But if saying no can prevent me from having an awful medical day or from passing out, I need to.
Living with chronic pain and health issues was definitely not what I expected to endure my first year of college, but in the end, it made me stronger.
Invisible illnesses are valid.