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The Invisibility of My Chronic Pain

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“Well, Taylor, all your tests came back normal. You are good to go.”

These words I have heard over and over again. If I’m so “normal,” why am I constantly in pain? Why do I have to move around on the hour at night so my joints don’t hurt as much in the morning? Why does my hand still hurt from the half page of writing I did two days ago? Why are my muscles always aching, stabbing, twitching, burning, throbbing? I can’t be “normal.”

After years of getting no results, I have learned to live with the pain. Some days I don’t pay attention to it. There are plenty of other things to worry about. But other days I wonder, is this as good as life gets? Will my body continue to deteriorate until I cannot possibly stand anymore? I pray that is not how my life turns out.

Since high school, this pain has gotten in the way of my goals. I used to swim competitively. Freshman year, I was good. My swimming future seemed bright. With some hard work, I could have done well. Sophomore year is when the trouble began. My right shoulder began to ache, and swimming only made it worse. I swam through the pain, though, hoping it was temporary. I had to take my junior season off for recovery.

I went to three different doctors up and down California, and they all told me the same thing: “You have lots of joint mobility, but other than that, you look normal. Here’s a referral for physical therapy.” The physical therapy never helped. Sure, I got stronger, but it didn’t take away the pain. By senior year, I was angry and motivated to swim my hardest, even if it hurt. I wanted to break the women’s 100-yard butterfly record, and I did not want anything to get in my way.

Being back in the pool was ecstasy. The water was where I felt most comfortable. Before all of our meets, I would visit my doctor to get my shoulder covered in athletic tape for some extra support. It sort of became my signature, and I liked to think it made other people believe I meant business.

I peaked early on in the season, and then things took a turn for the worse. The pain was beginning to be unbearable. I could not practice well; I was constantly having to stop to rest my shoulder. This took a toll on my strength and stamina. Though I hated to admit it, my swimming career was over. I still remember my last meet vividly. I swam the 100 Butterfly, the 200 Individual Medley, and two relays (had to go out with a bang, I guess). I cried through all my events. And that was it.

My shoulder pain still burdens me — it has probably gotten even worse. Added to it have been countless other pains up and down my whole body. Have I been given a reason for any of it? Nope. Sometimes I sit and wonder what I am supposed to learn from this. You can’t always get what you want? Life is pain? Stay humble?

I try my best not to get caught up in self-pity, though my previous words may suggest otherwise. Even if I am in pain, I try not to show it. “Fake it till you make it” — that’s my motto. I am full of questions, and rarely do I get answers. I live with hope that someday, one doctor will have the answers, and I will finally receive the treatment I need. But until that day, I will pop some ibuprofen and smile because, according to the doctors, there is nothing wrong with me.

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Thinkstock image by Thomas_Zsebok_Images

Originally published: July 11, 2017
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