I’m well-known as a person who never stops moving. I’m a full-time student, I work multiple jobs, I have active hobbies including rock climbing and dancing. To everyone who knows me through my actions, I’m a person who enjoys constantly doing something.
My social media profiles reflect this. I show myself being an active person, I share my accomplishments. I very rarely bring up the not-so-glamorous parts of my life. I try hard to present myself as a person who has everything together. After going through half of my life with people worrying about me and my mental health, I don’t want anyone to even vaguely perceive me as struggling.
However, the truth of the matter is, any chance I have, I’m on my heating pad in my bed with my TENS unit hooked up to my back and Icy Hot on each one of my limbs.
While most of my friends are aware that I live with chronic pain conditions, very few are aware as to the extent these conditions affect my life. I’m afraid if I share those effects with the people close to me, they won’t want to be around me anymore.
Shame is the driving force in my fear. I have worked through the shame I feel talking about my eating disorder and addiction, and I’m logically able to understand there’s nothing to be ashamed of regarding my pain as well. Logical and emotional thinking are different, though. I emotionally feel as though there should be some way I can force myself to “push through” and deal with the constant pain to be the person my friends think I am.
The reality of the situation is that I still find myself trying to be the “positive person with chronic pain,” and that’s not an authentic version of myself. There are days when I can’t get out of bed because getting down the stairs is too much for my body. There are days when all of my energy goes towards taking care of my body in the best ways I know how, and I don’t have the energy to be with my friends or be an active person.
Fighting shame feels the same as fighting stigma in that I have to own it. I need to recognize my limits and tell them to others so they can understand what I’m trying to cope with on a daily basis.
There’s not a single person on this planet who constantly has good days. My not-so-good days just happen to look a little different, because I’m listening to what my body is telling me. Even my good days look a little different because I’m still trying to listen to my body and give it what it needs to feel OK enough to be active.
There’s nothing shameful about learning how to take care of yourself and listening to the cues telling you what you need. I can’t perfectly curate my life because that isn’t how life works. I accept myself for who I am, chronic pain conditions and all. It’s time for me to let others understand who I am in an authentic manner, and that starts with breaking down shame and allowing myself to be vulnerable, even if that isn’t always picture-perfect.
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