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I Refuse to Apologize for Being in Pain

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Pain is a part of my everyday life. I did not choose it, I did not ask for it, I do not control it in any way, but it is always there. There are better days and worse days – days when I could almost forget about it and days when I am left unable to do anything at all, when the pain is so strong I think I can’t possibly bear it. Whatever pain level I find myself at on any given day, it’s always there due to my illnesses and it’s a part of me and my identity.

My pain is a part of who I am by now, whether I like it or not. It’s been a long journey, accepting that my illnesses are a part of me, and sometimes I naturally still struggle with it – it’s still a battle I am fighting – but it’s undeniably a part of who I am either way. It is not the only thing I am, of course – I hate to be seen as just my illness but I can’t erase it either; it’s one of those many things that make me myself – even if it’s a thing I’d give up anytime due to the struggles it brings to my life.


Yet, I find myself apologizing for being in pain to others whom it does not actually harm. There are – as always – many layers to this, many points of view and many different situations that I found myself in over the time that made me want to put this into words.

But I’ve been thinking about it, thinking about why I don’t really have to apologize for it and I’m learning to keep reminding myself that the truth is that the pain I’m in is not my fault, same as my illnesses are not my fault. They’re here but I am not to blame for them, nor is anybody else. I’ve never understood why people have the urge to imply you’re not doing enough to be healthy if you find yourself ill, as if chronic illness and disability were just a lack of effort to stay healthy and therefore the ill people themselves were to blame for their illnesses.

I can’t even count the times someone tried to imply that if I tried harder, did more of this or maybe that, I’d be healthy. And maybe that’s a part of why I feel like I’m expected to apologize. But that’s not true nor right. And my pain is simply not my fault.

Another reminder for myself is that my illnesses are a part of who I am – and I finally found myself understanding that I don’t owe anyone an apology for that. I understood that same as I am not going to apologize for not being straight, I am not going to apologize for being ill and for being in pain.

As I said, there are more sides to it, more different points of view. There is the need to apologize for being in pain when it limits me and the need to apologize for it when I do something despite it, the need to apologize for how I do or do not cope with the pain, and there’s the need to apologize to people around me simply because I have chronic pain – the need I find myself forced into by the view of society on friends, family members and others who are around ill and disabled people.

It’s like this; people around disabled and/or chronically ill people are often painted as the heroes, the brave, the saints – simply for being around us, simply for being our friends or family members or caregivers. They’re often painted as better people and above others because they supposedly have the amazing strength to be around chronically ill and disabled people, to be our friends despite us being ill, being limited, being in pain.

But that’s not how it should be. People around me know who I am and should accept who I am, my illness and chronic pain included. But what’s heroic or special about it? What’s brave about being friends with me? Is it that terrible, such a huge self-sacrifice, to be around us?

Of course it isn’t, and it shouldn’t be treated as such – as an act of heroism – and therefore I don’t have to apologize to the people around me for being who I am. My pain doesn’t make me any lesser than them, it doesn’t make me a worse friend, or a worse sister and daughter and it doesn’t make me a worse person. Pain doesn’t make me unworthy or lesser. It does not make me a burden. It just makes me a person with specific needs and some limitations and I don’t owe an apology to people for that, despite the common assumption.

Sometimes when I am left completely unable to do anything at all I feel the need to apologize to others even if it does not affect them. On the contrary when I do something – be it something I have to do or something I want to do for fun, for the experience, because I am human and want to make memories and live and have fun I feel like it’s either assumed my pain isn’t as bad or as real as if I just stayed in bed. But I am not sorry for wanting to live my life either.

I am not obligated to apologize for any of it. I do not have to apologize for not being able to do something due to my illness and my pain, because it’s not my fault and in the same way I am not going to apologize for wanting to live my life even if I am in pain.

Each of us is different. We handle pain differently, subjectively, we rate pain differently and find different pain levels bearable. We are, each of us, individuals with different experiences and issues and that’s OK. If I can do something at a pain level which someone else would find unbearable I don’t have to apologize, nor does the other person for not being able to do something. And my coping mechanisms are not something to be sorry for either, even if I need to be in quiet and alone, have to cancel, leave the room or anything else, it’s OK.

At last there’s the feeling like I need to apologize to the doctors who seem bothered when I am honest and something they suggested is not helping me or I got a new symptom, or I feel like they don’t take me seriously. But here I have a reminder for myself as well – my doctors are supposed to be here for me. It’s their job and I am not at fault here either.

So no, I am not going to apologize for being in pain.

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Thinkstock photo via grau-art.

Originally published: September 12, 2017
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