Monday, July 11, 2011

The Shame of Pain

I’ve written about something similar before, but it’s coming up again because, well, I’m in pain again. My friend Molly Steere wrote a blog about this not too long ago, asking people to give people with chronic pain a break, and when I read it, I thought “Yeah, give us a break!”
Molly and I are very similar people, and in this case I totally empathize and agree with one huge hurdle in both our lives: we are held back from what we want to do and accomplish by chronic and often agonizing pain.
Molly has it much worse than I do when it comes to the extent and depth of pain she endures, but I have the luck of having much more varied pain sources: if it’s not one thing, it’s another. My problem is that I am somehow ashamed of my pain and will rarely admit to it because it shows that I am not the super human I want people to think I am.
Take this very moment. Before I left Mexico I got some sort of stomach ailment, which is not the normal Mexican stomach ailment: it is an overall inflammation and tenderness in my abdomen, made worse by eating pretty much anything, but it is always there to some degree. Considering that preparing and eating food is one of the reasons I get up in the morning, both to make money and to enjoy my day, this is psychologically one of the worst things I could be asked to endure.
When I tell people about it, as with every other illness I’ve ever had, I try to end the sentence on a positive note: “Yes, I feel like crap, and I can’t eat and nothing sounds good, but they should be able to get my lab results back soon and I’ll feel better then.” In fact, the other night I was telling someone that I was actually feeling worse, and ended the sentence with, “but that’s okay.”
“No, it’s NOT okay,” said my dad, who was in the room, and obviously as frustrated as I was that I wasn’t getting better.
And he’s right. It’s not okay, but that’s what I always say. When I think about why I actually say this when I don’t mean it, I have to think about why exactly I do so. One of the reasons is that I am ashamed to admit that I am any less than okay: 100% normal like everyone else. I am ashamed to admit that, despite the fact that I take very good care of myself, I am constantly sick. I am ashamed to admit that something in my life is out of my control, and I try to take control of it again by sounding upbeat so that others won’t feel sorry for me.
This is stupid.
This is stupid because you cannot actually expect people to give you a break if you don’t ask for one. You cannot get angry at someone for expecting a normal response from you if you don’t feel normal but you don’t tell them. You can’t expect someone to understand why you aren’t as happy or upbeat as usual if you don’t tell them why, and no one will offer to help you if they don’t know you need help.
I tend to work myself too hard anyway. I am constantly expecting more from myself than other expect of me, and apparently part of that is expecting perfect health despite this internal pressure. Sometimes, before I can catch myself, I find myself thinking, “No one else seems to suffer from all this stuff, so I shouldn’t either.” Well, not everyone else is me. Regardless of how I want to feel, I need to act like how I actually feel, if for no better reason than to allow myself to rest when I need to. The world will not fall down if I’m not there to shore it up, so why do I keep trying to take all the weight on my shoulders?

Love and painful kisses