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The Problem With Telling Me My Illnesses Are 'All in My Head'

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“It’s all in your head,” people tell me, pushing this notion that if I just “stay positive,” all of my challenges will evaporate and I’ll be happy. While I appreciate the sentiment, illnesses do not work that way, mental or physical. If it were so simple, why would I choose this? Positive attitudes are important, yes, but they are not a cure all. I can’t smile the pain away. I would be smiling incessantly if this were the case, but alas, it is not.


There are many days my primary focus is just keeping my head above water. There’s no time to recite a mantra that is supposed to help me feel better; there’s just trying to find enough oxygen among the waves to keep me alive. Not to mention, telling me my pain is “all in my head” invalidates my experiences and feelings. It is a biting, hurtful phrase to hear because for me? This is all-consuming and as real as it can get.

Additionally, yes, some of it is in my head. That does not make it any less real. Even if parts of my illnesses do indeed take place “in my head,” they’re still real. You wouldn’t tell a cancer patient, “It’s all in your body, just get over it!” The same compassion and at least an attempt at understanding should be granted to anyone who is ill.

I do not expect anyone who doesn’t endure this to fully grasp it. I only ask that if you’re a part of my life, you treat my challenges like they matter. Because I would do the same for you. I get migraines frequently, but I wouldn’t belittle you for having a headache just because it’s perhaps not as severe. A headache sucks and so does a migraine.

This is not to insinuate dwelling on an issue will help either, it’s merely to express the importance of validating a person’s struggles. Not everyone will understand or even try to, and those are not the type of people anyone wants in their life, healthy or not.

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Thinkstock photo via amoklv.

Originally published: August 2, 2017
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