Living With Chronic Pain Doesn't Make Me 'Strong' – Just Disabled


“You’re so strong.”

I read that sentence over and over, but it’s not the first time I read it or hear it. Whenever I explain that I suffer from chronic pain, listing a few of the symptoms of fibromyalgia, it always ends up with someone saying, “You’re so strong” or “You are so brave,” but every single time it just feels wrong.

I know I am supposed to thank the person. I feel my face slightly going red, as I tilt it down and decide whether to say “thank you.” It is expected of me to say it, because if I answered, “No, I’m not,” they would just try to convince me that yes, indeed, I am. Because they don’t think they could ever live with chronic pain, in their eyes, I am so brave to even open my eyes each morning. And it is this concept that makes me upset, because living with chronic pain does not make me brave or strong. It just makes me disabled.

woman leaning on a railing looking at a park

It has been a year since the first time I answered, “I am disabled” to questions such as “What’s wrong with you?,” and each time, my face did not show shame or a desire to hide because of my disabled status and life. And as every person tried to devalue my disability, trying to convince me I was not simply because they could not see my disability, I wondered why – to them – disability was such an awful concept that they had to spend their entire time convincing me I was not. To them, a disabled life was not a worthy life, and categorizing me as disabled left me out, cornered me to the borders of society and worth.

As I look at myself in the mirror, I see many things. I see my red cheeks and my light smile, the chubbiness of my curves and my weak legs. In each of those characteristics, I see fibromyalgia and disability. I see and feel pain: but I don’t wonder any more when it will go away. Some days it feels like it can conquer me whole, other days it feels like an intrinsic part of my body I cannot detach from. But does it make me strong? Does it make brave to live my life as every other human being?

Every single molecule in my body screams “no.

 

Someone identifying me as brave and strong puts me in a different position from them. It takes me away from their same equal pane, and leaves me on the borders under a label that says “disabled.” And while I do categorize myself as disabled, I doubt whether my pride and society’s notion of disability overlap, or whether they are two completely different notions.

Telling me I am strong devalues my struggles. It makes my life not worthy, as if I am fighting for something I shouldn’t fight for, but my disabled being is beautiful. All the sacrifices I make to accommodate my disability are not something dreadful I am giving up on: they are just accommodations for me to live happily, just as happily as if I had a healthy, able body.

As much as I will never stop fighting for awareness for fibromyalgia and disability, trying to make understand able-bodied people the struggle chronic illness causes for so many lives, I will also not talk about my illness with shame. Fibromyalgia does not make me strong; it just makes me disabled and ill, and that is not something to feel shame for.

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