Every so often I run into an article titled “Things about Chronic Illness I Wish People Understood” or something like that. If I’m bored or want to avoid making awkward eye contact as I wait in line at the post office I might read it…and pretty much every single time I roll my eyes with disappointment.
Inevitably, the writer will preach about how people don’t have to look sick to be sick (duh) or that every person in chronic pain isn’t a drug seeker (of course). These points seem obvious, right?
Let me now take a moment to address those who are saying “But, there was this time that this woman yelled at me for parking in a handicap spot at Target because she thought I didn’t need to be there and I was having a really bad pain day and…” – please calm down. Needless to say, there are plenty of bozos out there who actually believe craziness. But I’m not talking about them because I’m not worried about them. They’re lost causes and, if truth be told, their ignorance is often more amusing than offensive. Those people are never going to read a post like this and think, I shouldn’t have verbally accosted that man who parked in the handicap spot at Target that day. I had no idea chronic illness was invisible; I feel really badly about my behavior and will never act like that again.
Rather than writing myths addressed to people who have no shot of ever knowing better, I’m going to write to my audience which I’m pretty sure is a small group of people in chronic pain, and a much larger group of people who are either related to me or know me well.
Myth 1: I don’t want to listen to you complain about your pain.
If I love you, I care when you’re hurting. My chronic pain has no effect on my ability to be empathetic. Unfortunately, my chronic pain also does not make me more caring, so if I don’t love you, or at least like you a little, I probably won’t care too much if you’re hurting. I mean, that sucks, but let’s talk about something a little more pleasant.
Myth 2: I am unaware that I am a miserable person on bad pain days.
If you read this blog even just a little you will (hopefully) understand that I have an okay grasp on my shortcomings. It seems like I end every other post with “Sorry, I know I’m guilty of this, and I promise I’m working on it!” There are a lot of behaviors I need to correct, but I think my biggest issue is being a terrible, miserable person to be around when I’m in more pain than usual. I wish that I could always smile through it, but on those days when I’m muscling through the smallest tasks smiling is not going to happen. I’ve been told by multiple people that I have a horrible resting bitch face, and I think that expression might actually get worse as my pain increases. So, I’m sorry, I know I’m guilty of this, and I promise I’m working on it!
Myth 3: Asking me about my pain makes me think about it more, so you shouldn’t ask me about it.
I understand that distraction can be an incredible pain reliever, but my hips always hurt, so I always feel them whether you’re asking me about it or not. If I’m being honest, it’s aggravating to be with a group of people who pretend like you’re not limping five feet behind them. I’d rather you make fun of my cowboy walk or the fact that a grandmother just passed me instead of pretending like we don’t know I’m having a hard time.
Myth 4: If I look good I feel good, and if I look bad I feel bad.
It’s not that it’s impossible for anyone to accurately estimate my pain, but my appearance isn’t going to help you do this. If I’m at a wedding and not wearing a bridesmaids dress (I mean, some of them are fine, but I’m never going to feel awesome about something another person makes me wear) I probably look dynamite. But I’ll look dynamite while I sit at a table and make best friends with the groom’s elderly aunt while my friends are awkward-white-people-dancing to Bruno Mars covers. And, just like anyone else, some days I look pretty rough for no good reason at all. Today is kind of one of those days, actually…
Myth 5: I am stronger than you.
I wish this one was true, but it’s not. If you had chronic pain you’d respond just like me. I know this because there are no other options…at least not good ones. We all have those things we have to deal with, and we just grit our teeth and get through it. So as much as I’d like you to continue thinking I’m better than you in this way, I’m not, but I sincerely appreciate the kind thoughts.