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When a Doctor's Advice Awakened My Own Doubts About My Pain


Today was an amazingly productive day. I got a lot of things done, including baking both cookies and cupcakes. And yet, I still took Tylenol twice, reduced my subluxed sacroiliac joint half a dozen times, got nauseous twice, and had to lay down to rest and ice three times. And this was a good day. The day before yesterday I spent almost completely in bed, and when I did force myself up to do some housework, I ended up back in bed after a few minutes, crying from pain and frustration.

The doctor I saw yesterday didn’t see any of this. He spent¬†15 minutes with me, listening to a brief medical history of the past four years¬†and doing a physical exam. At that point he told¬†me that¬†I need to exercise, get out of the house, and return to work as soon as possible.

Maybe I didn’t explain well enough how the pain and fatigue¬†impacts my life. How I do physical therapy, but must carefully monitor my body¬†to try and determine whether the pain I’m feeling is “good” or¬†“bad.” How I want to exercise and get out of the house, but most of¬†the time I end up injuring another joint and get set back for weeks. How I cry¬†thinking of the hikes I may never go on again. How I want to work, but between¬†my pain and my brain fog it’s impossible right now.

Yet in the brief time we spent together, he reignited my¬†doubt. Maybe I’m exaggerating. Maybe I’m not that sick. Maybe I’m just lazy.¬†Maybe I just need to suck it up and try harder.

The doctor wasn’t even mean. I’m sure he meant well and¬†thought he was helping. In a way, that makes it even more insidious. It’s¬†easier to ignore someone when they obviously don’t have your best interests in¬†mind. Instead, he used his position of authority to give me advice that was¬†unhelpful and invalidating. And that is unfortunate.

A little validation goes a long way when you’re in chronic¬†pain. We live in a culture that tells you to pull yourself up by your¬†bootstraps and tough it out when things get hard. It takes willpower to slow¬†down and listen to your body. I have to remind myself often that it’s not lazy¬†to rest when I’m ill or in pain, or that just because I’m not feeling pain at¬†this moment doesn’t mean it wasn’t real. My pain is real.

In the end, I allowed the doctor’s words to get to me. The¬†doubts he awakened were my own. It reminded me that I still have a ways to go¬†in fully¬†trusting myself and feeling secure in my knowledge of who I am.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe a time you saw your disability, illness and/or disease through the eyes of someone else. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.