The Mighty Logo

Pain Might Be Invisible, But Kindness Is Not

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Once you’ve walked through the world with invisible, unbearable hurt, you become part of a club nobody wants to belong to.

In my case, as the daily pain of chronic illness became my norm, I found myself seeing the world in a new light. It created an awareness, on an intimate level, of the very real possibility that any person I encountered might also be experiencing undetectable, yet very significant, pain. This made me acutely sensitive to the fragile nature of external appearances, and the extent to which a person is capable of masking and hiding deep despair.

When you’ve been through a painful trauma that causes the ground beneath you to fall out from under your feet, you know that this experience could have passed you by and could have touched someone else just as easily. Like a tornado ripping through a neighborhood, completely demolishing everything on one side of the street and leaving the other untouched; life’s harshest events often strike with random unpredictability.

It’s the strangest thing, moving through life while you feel like it is simultaneously running over you. It creates situations where for a day, a week, or even longer, you may sit amidst the pieces of your shattered world while everything around you continues to function as “normal.” The earth keeps moving; even while you feel totally adrift in time and space, struggling to feel connected to what is going on around you.

You pick out a bunch of bananas at the grocery store appearing to be going about your tasks in a “business as usual” manner, even though you just found out that your Mom has cancer. You take your dog around the block while you await a phone update about a loved one fighting for their life in the ICU. You smile at others on the sidewalk like it is a regular Tuesday, when it’s your first time out of the house in over a week due to a pain flare that has kept you bed-bound. You stand in a TSA line while you make your way through the airport to go to the funeral of your best friend who took his own life just two days before. To the onlooker, you appear to be functioning “normally,” and yet, your world has been shaken to its core.

I’ve lived all of these days, and if you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’ve endured your fair share of similar challenging experiences too. The specifics will vary, but the pain is a shared experience.

Once you are a member of this “invisible pain” club, you become deeply aware of the fact that outside indicators that a person is hurting, even when that pain is overwhelmingly heartbreaking, are not always present. You understand that can be pain a fire that burns within, rampant and white hot, yet completely invisible to the naked eye of an outsider.

As a member of this club, you know that even on the worst days of your life, you don’t get a name tag for the day that says, “I’m struggling. Please be kind to me.”

You know that a person who is carrying intense pain and barely hanging on by a thread can look completely “fine.” You know that beneath a distracted gaze, someone might be shell-shocked and barely managing to blink back tears. You know that the car in front of you taking a few extra moments at a stop sign might have a driver behind the wheel who feels so empty and hollow, they have no idea how they’re even functioning.

On these days, you also know that basic acts of kindness can turn into earth magic. You know that when a person feels hurt and vulnerable, they often are more sensitive the the energy around them.

Your heart tells you that the smallest acts of generosity have the power to reach deep into someone’s soul and bring warmth to even the tiniest part of it that is aching so very deeply. That a little bit of patience or a smile from a stranger can be as comforting as a hug.

You know that on these days and in these moments, where the pain might be invisible, kindness is not.

When you pause for a moment to really consider the power we all have to spread kindness, it is remarkable. Knowing that during our normal, mundane, routine days we can be a light for another soul on one of their worst is such a special gift.

A banner promoting The Mighty's new Spoonie Life Hacks group on The Mighty mobile app. The banner reads, Make life with chronic illness a little bit easier. Join the Spoonie Life Hacks group to get tips from other spoonies for tackling everyday tasks — and share your own hacks! Click to join.

Most of the time, we will have no idea how deeply our act of kindness can touch someone on one of their hardest days. But that doesn’t make our actions any less important or meaningful. The gift to us, when we practice kindness, is that we are able to carry the belief that small gestures requiring hardly any effort on our part can be a lifeline for a person who is being swallowed up by a painful storm. And of course, we can live with the hope that in our darkest moments, we too will receive such a lifeline too.

It is no coincidence that oftentimes the kindest souls are the ones who have endured unimaginable pain.

They are part of the club; the club that understands how important it is to lift others up, even if you don’t know that you’re doing so. The club that knows from experience, that even though pain might be invisible, kindness is not — and what an opportunity that is to be a light in this world.

I am hopeful that these words will inspire you to join the band of kindness magicians who “get it” and shine a little bit more love, gentleness and good into the universe today.

And if today you are having one of “those days” where you need a boost of kindness, I hope these words allow you to feel seen and held in your struggle. Please know that even if your pain is invisible, it is valid and it is real; and I am sending so much comfort and courage your way.

Follow this journey on Mindful Migraine.

Originally published: January 20, 2021
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home