The Mighty Logo

What It's Like Being Judged for Your Invisible Chronic Pain

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I was recently asked a question: if there had been a time in my life where I had been judged because of my invisible illness: chronic pain. This question was not difficult for me to answer, not because I could not think of a time when I was judged for chronic pain, but because there have been so many hundreds of times I have been judged due to this invisible illness I could not think of just one. Even as I write that sentence, moments, days, times of judgement and pain run through my mind like a never-ending waterfall of emotions that I cannot believed I survived. Not only survived but thrived… eventually.

Following my bike accident and subsequent brain surgery due to a blood clot and traumatic brain injury, I had half a shaved head, a swollen face, bruises, and scars that took years to heal. I was only 13, going into the seventh grade at a new school, and three months of recovery was not enough physically or emotionally. Being the new girl at the age of 13 is never easy for anyone, much less for someone whose appearance was very scarred. I was made fun of daily, judged by every classmate except a few friends who are still my closest friends and eventually started eating lunch in the bathroom stall just so I would not feel judged and alone. Sometimes it is lonelier being around people than it is to be literally alone, which is the loneliest feeling there is.

By eighth grade my hair had grown back for the most part and all of my visible scars had either healed or were hidden. I tried to fit in by buying the clothes my peers wore and buying the best acne face wash and slowly I began to make friends. People no longer made fun of me because I looked “normal.” I was young and I had friends to sit at lunch with and people started to like me, the real me, not the outside version.

I had a good year but that did not last for very long. High school came faster than I could imagine and the physical pain I had felt since my bike accident began to become more consistent and more painful. I started to get bullied again by certain peers because I was constantly rubbing my face and head without even realizing I was doing so. The pain was/is located in those places and I was trying to massage to pain away without even knowing what I was doing. Other people noticed and I was once again made fun of: the freak who rubbed her face all during school. It was almost like a tic that I could not stop because the pain was slowly but surely taking over my life.

It was around this time that I started my 10-year search for a cure to a disease I had never heard of: chronic pain. I was then judged for making up my invisible illness. I missed school a lot and spent hours upon hours in doctor’s offices and none of my peers believed me because I looked “fine.” People just thought I wanted attention. I began to isolate myself from people because it was emotionally painful to have the few people I loved and trusted not believe me because my illness was invisible. Then I was the girl who was constantly canceling plans and “lying” about being in pain. I felt depressed, guilty, and began to believe I was going crazy as no doctor or specialist could help me. I brought people down and I was not fun to be around. I did not even like being around myself, much less exposing the people I did care for to a version of me that was not me at all. I was pain: pain was me.

I spent the following 10 years being judged because of my invisible illness, and even once I hit my rock-bottom of pain and ended up at the Pain Rehab Center at the Mayo Clinic and learned how to manage pain naturally, I still was judged. I was judged by many people for how I lived when I was fighting pain, searching for a cure, and numbing my pain by drinking with friends and then I was judged for living a healthy lifestyle that had little in common with my former life. I was exercising, practicing meditation, eating well, and no longer had any desire to numb my pain or party with friends. I lost tons of friends because of my transformation. I get judged to this day for my lifestyle. “Why do you need to work out? You are so tiny as it is?!” “You never go out and have ‘fun’ anymore, you used to be the life of the party!” I do not know if it is age or wisdom, but those comments do not bother me at all anymore. I like me. There is a beautiful quote that says: “Wisdom is nothing more than healed pain.”

What I have learned over the years is that people are always going to judge you no matter what you do, so you may as well do what makes you healthy and happy. I personally do not judge others for their actions as I know we are all fighting battles the world may know nothing about. I will say something if I see someone being judged for their actions, if I have the energy, that is. I have also learned that the more a person judges another, the unhappier he or she is with his or her own life. As Abraham Hicks says: “People will love you and people will hate you and none of it will have anything to do with you.”

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Originally published: November 12, 2016
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