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Why I Stopped Justifying Myself to People Who Think I Look 'Too Healthy' to Have Chronic Pain

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This is exactly what someone looks like with chronic pain. This picture below was taken at a place called Long Wood Gardens which is where we spent my dad’s past birthday. The people walking by who do not know me would never believe I have chronic pain. I am trying to go back in time and visualize this picture 15 years ago when I looked nothing like this and my world was spiraling out of control due to chronic pain. If 21-year-old Jessica saw this mother and daughter at a well-known garden exhibit, she probably would have cried wishing she could be the person seen below.


The Jessica of past would never have thought this Jessica has chronic pain and would have been filled with jealously just at the fact that this person seen above was a smiling, happy mother spending the day with her family. Twenty-something Jessica would have thought: “Sure, maybe this in-shape, happy mom isn’t perfect, but I would give my right arm to have her life. If this lady could live with pain like I do for just one day she would never be able to have a beautiful daughter and be happy at a place like this. I’ll never have anything like this girl.” I wish I could tell my younger self that one day she would be the woman she sees who is smiling a real smile, healthy, and a mother of a beautiful daughter.

I am misunderstood on a weekly if not daily basis. It was easier for people to believe I had chronic pain when I was depressed, unhealthy, and at the doctor’s for pain at least three times a week. I never worked out a day in my life until I was the age of 22. I never ate extremely healthy. I could do keg stands with the best of them and my idea of a healthy dinner was pizza with broccoli on top. People who know the Jessica I am now have a very hard time believing me when I tell them of my past because of how dedicated to health I am.

I used to hear whispers at the gym when people did not realize I could hear them over their headphones: “That girl says she has chronic pain but there is no way she does. It is probably just for attention. If I was in a lot of pain I would not be able to run on the treadmill or lift a weight.” Hearing comments like such or knowing that some people do not believe me used to infuriate me, but not so much anymore. I used to feel the need to justify myself, which takes a lot of energy and is a total waste of time. When asked or confronted about how I was able to do things when I had “chronic pain” I used to go into my entire story: “Believe it or not, I exercise and live the way I do because of chronic pain. I spent 10 years searching for a cure and taking tons of medications for pain until I wanted to end my life and ended up at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota where I learned to manage pain naturally. They taught me to exercise correctly, and physical therapy taught me about weight lifting and the importance of strength training. If I did not exercise or do all the things I do for my natural management of chronic pain I would be a total wreck just like I was in my young 20s. You should see pictures of me from back then.”

This is literally a paragraph I would say on a daily basis: at least once a day. Then I woke up. I began to realize that the more and more I justified my invisible illness, the more I was focusing on my pain. I spent years working on not focusing on pain, and now I was spending an hour a day justifying myself to people who I was not even close to. People are going to judge you no matter what: invisible illness or no invisible illness. I truly believe people talk about other people as a way to not have to deal with their own problems. I know. I used to be one of those people. You have no need to justify yourself to anyone. The only person you need to improve for or impress is you.

We need to be more concerned with how we feel about ourselves and less concerned with how others feel about us. It is your life, your health and your happiness. Do not waste the energy that some of you fight damn hard for on other people’s opinions of you and your life. Never forget that everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.

Originally published: September 7, 2016
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