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The Problem With Being Called 'Strong' for Not Expressing Your Pain

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Yesterday, there was an event in DC I had been looking forward to for months. Over the past few months, I have changed my diet, I’ve lost weight, and I’ve had more healthy days than usual, so I figured, “Why not?” and decided to go. While on the way with my friend to the aforementioned event, we ate some food, and soon after, I was in terrible pain. I had to ask my friend desperately to pull over at a drug store and leave me there so she could still go have fun. I was dripping with embarrassment and apologies and she was reluctant to leave me, but I insisted. I had someone pick me up and I spent the rest of my evening, (which I also had plans for and had to cancel), between the bed and the bathtub. And here I am, the next day. I haven’t been downstairs today. I watched the day go by through my bedroom window, curled up with a heating pad.

I have multiple debilitating and chronic illnesses; fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, serious breathing issues, and heart issues, to name a few. I know what it’s like to not be invited to things anymore. I know what it’s like to be excluded and forgotten, even if it’s not done intentionally. I know what it’s like to spend a week in bed. I know what it’s like to not be able to even take a shower by myself, or make a sandwich, walk to get the mail, or to even put my son on the bus.

Admittedly, I am jealous. I am envious. I miss human contact so much sometimes, it becomes physically painful. I am lonely. I love my friends, and somehow, I still manage to have quite a few. I love to see my friends succeed and my jealousy does not make me secretly happy when they fail. I love their happiness and I love the opportunities I have to share in it with them, whether it be through Facebook posts or the rare in-person celebration. But sometimes, I just wish I could have what they have too.

This is my normal now. And yes, it’s hard to accept. I also don’t expect anyone who isn’t forced to deal with chronic illness to understand. People have commented on my crochet projects, which I sometimes share on my Facebook and Instagram, saying things like “Wow! I wish I had time for that!” Little do they know, I kind of wish I didn’t have time for that. I needed something to entertain myself on the bad health days (because believe it or not, Netflix does get boring after a while), so I learned to crochet. Crocheting gives me a sense of accomplishment. 

My good days are few and far between. But they are so special to me. Days when the pain isn’t quite so bad; days when I can go outside and chase my son through the yard and pick him up and twirl him in my arms. But unless cures are found for my illnesses, I will always be ill. I am allowed to be sad about that. I am allowed to grieve for the life I could have had if I had not been ill. 

Sometimes, I just need to cry. And that is OK. Not every day will be like these past two days and I know that. But I am human, and sometimes being positive in the midst of pain is like climbing a mountain wearing 200-pound ankle weights. I may not always do it gracefully, but I always end up climbing back up somehow. As much as I may think it in my darkest of times, I don’t hate my life. I love my life and I consider myself very, very lucky. I know there are a lot of people who have a much harder time than I. I have been gifted with an  amazing, beautiful son, I love my friends, my family, my healthy days. I love being alive, and honestly, I am grateful to be alive at all. My life has been so full of obstacles, and though at times, the obstacles have seemed insurmountable and daunting, they have also been incredibly motivating.

I take great issue with the sentiment that those who do not express their pain and sadness should be glorified for their strength. You’ve likely seen it in obituaries: “She fought a brave battle, and never complained once” or “She was always positive even through the pain.” The truth is, it is much more likely that they weren’t always positive. Whether it be pride, or simply not wanting to inconvenience anyone, it is much, much more likely that they just didn’t show their pain to you or never showed it to anyone at all. We all have dark days and we all need help and reassurance once in a while when we are struggling. To express that does not denote weakness. I feel that true strength is the ability to let yourself cry when you need to, to put pride aside and ask for help when you need it, and to let the ones who love you help pick you back up when you’ve fallen. I will not be ashamed of that, nor will I apologize for “feeling sorry for myself” when I need to. I will not apologize for being human.

My life will likely never have any semblance of what I dream of as “normalcy.” Sometimes I am OK with that, sometimes I’m not. Either way, I feel that as long as people still get back up after falling on the dark days, they should be able to express whatever they please without being ashamed.

I am strong. Sometimes I need help remembering that fact. I cherish deeply those who help me remember myself.

There will be always be dark days. Days where I rant to Facebook and consequently find myself “unfriended” for my negativity. Days when the mountain just seems too steep to climb. But as long as I am able to fight, I will fight. 

I will fight for my son, my health, for my sanity, for the good days, and for my right to complain as I please. ‘Til my last breath.

Originally published: September 20, 2016
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