To the Doctor Who Said ‘You’re Too Young for This'

“You’re too young to be in this kind of pain,” my doctor told me, typing something into my chart. “It’s frustrating that we can’t figure out what’s wrong with you.”

Lady, you’re telling me. That was the third time that year I’d been to my general practitioner for chronic pain, fatigue, vertigo, skin irritation, sleeplessness and anxiety, among other symptoms. It was the third year I’d spent in pain, exhausted, dizzy and shaky from walking the grocery store aisles. And it would be another year before she would finally send me to a rheumatologist, who would diagnose me with fibromyalgia with chronic fatigue components in a single appointment.

Medical professionals: Please look past the number on my chart. Chronic pain patients come in all shapes, sizes and ages. I started having symptoms when I was 19, but I didn’t start getting treatment until I was 26. I think about the years I spent shuttling between doctors and tests, intermittently giving up and thinking I was just going to feel that way forever because there wasn’t an answer. But there was one; it seemed like doctors just refused to look for it because I was “too young” to get sick.

We are fallible bodies, all of us. And sometimes, those bodies break down at unexpected times, like a car getting a flat tire in the rain on a winding country road. I didn’t want to get sick as a college student, or come back to your office repeatedly for the same problems. As frustrating as that was for you, imagine how I felt. As a human being, you have a right to your frustration. As a patient, I have a right to proper treatment, no matter how young I am.

Ageism is a problem on both ends of the spectrum, but it can be highly damaging for young people who need care. I’m lucky that my illness responds relatively well to the treatment plan I’m on, which only needs occasional tweaking. But I have bad days and weeks, too — days and weeks when I feel like I’m decades older than my birth certificate reads. Young people with invisible illnesses need you to understand there’s more to us than our trendy clothes and wrinkle-free faces. We deserve respect and the same consideration you’d give an elderly woman who presented with the same symptoms. We shouldn’t be dismissed because of our age.

And to our friends and families: Understand we have limitations and don’t be afraid to ask what they are. Few would expect an 85-year-old to party until after midnight, and some days, we could give that octogenarian some competition in frailty. Sure, sometimes I can dance until the lights come on. Other times, the couch is my best friend. We’re just like you, but not like you, either. If you want to know how we’re feeling, go ahead and ask. And when we answer, no matter what we say, believe us.

two people standing on top of mountain overlooking lake
Lizz and a friend at the top of a mountain.

Follow this journey on Lizz Schumer.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment when you were at a hospital and a medical staffer, fellow patient or a stranger made a negative or surprising comment that caught you off guard. How did you respond to it? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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