The Mighty Logo

When People Call You 'Selfish' For How You Manage Your Pain

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

For people with chronic pain, self-care is not selfish or irresponsible: it’s survival.

I have spent about two-thirds of my life feeling somewhat selfish because of my invisible illness: chronic pain. During the time in which I was searching for a cure to my pain, I was consumed by anger, depression, anxiety, loss and pain so severe I could not even will myself to read a book – something I had always loved.

I was called selfish many times. I was the queen of cancelling plans at the last minute and missing classes because I was experiencing so much physical pain and subsequent depression that I could not get out of bed. I missed important family events because I could not imagine being around the people who thought I was this amazing girl headed for college and risk them seeing the pain even my smile could not hide. I was embarrassed, ashamed, confused and in so much physical and emotional pain over being “selfish.”  

However, I was not being selfish because I was doing whatever I wanted to do and not caring about letting people down. I wanted to be with my friends. I wanted to be in class studying. I wanted to be around the people I loved more than anything in the world. Instead I was balled up in bed alone either crying until the tears could no longer fall or just staring at the wall. Some may call that selfish; however, I truly was just surviving and, over the years, hanging on by a thread.

So not only did I feel guilty for an invisible illness that had yet to be diagnosed as chronic pain, but I felt hated because everyone thought I was just a selfish person who ditched the people she claimed she loved. Hell on earth. There are no other words to describe those 10+ years of my life: pure and utter hell, every second of every day of every year.

I no longer look back and see myself as being selfish. I was surviving alone with a pain no one could see and a pain I could not fathom.

Fast forward to when I finally accepted my chronic pain and learned how to manage this disease naturally.  

The first amazing thing to enter my existence once I came to a place of acceptance was hope. Then the work began. I began managing pain naturally when I was 22; I am now 35 and it is still part of my daily routine so I can manage pain without pain managing me. I still have chronic pain. I still have difficult hours and sometimes difficult days, but the good days far outweigh the bad. Is there a coincidence that how I now manage pain works, whereas how I used to manage pain (by searching for a cure) didn’t? I truly do not believe so. Is my life perfect? Hell no. However, I am in a place I never thought I would be in after my bike accident and the subsequent pain. My dreams have come true, and more of my dreams will come true. There is no exact destination for me, and the journey does have its ups and downs, but I am finally the Jessica I was meant to be.  

With that said, I do find that people still call me selfish at times. I would be lying if I said that term did not hurt, but I am working on not allowing other people’s views on how I live or manage pain to interfere with my happiness. Like the saying goes: “Never mock a pain you have not endured.” I have to set some limitations in my life in order to control my pain naturally. I cannot do everything a person without chronic pain can do. Let me rephrase that: I can do everything a person without chronic pain can do, but if I did so, I would be right back in the first paragraph of this article – hell on earth. I have to take care of myself – body, mind and spirit – and know and respect my limitations in order to take care of the people I love and be the person I was meant to be.

I say no to invitations and people think that is very selfish of me. Do I say no to all invites or requests to spend time with me? No. However, I do say no when I know a certain day is already busy and going to one extra thing will truly intensify my pain. I listen to my inner wisdom and say no.  

I have an odd sleeping schedule. I go to sleep early – between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. on most nights. There are the occasional nights I stay awake later to spend time with the people I love, but on average I fall asleep with a book in my hand around 9:00 p.m. – and yes, on the weekends as well. I am a morning person and part of my chronic pain management is a good amount of sleep, exercise and meditation. I am a mother. I like to wake up before my 4-year-old so I can exercise and practice a small meditation without her angelic toddler voice saying, “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy” over 50 times. I have been called selfish for my sleep schedule.  

Those are just two small examples of why I am called selfish at this point and time in my life. If I could turn back time I would never have fallen off my bike and I would never have had chronic pain. I cannot do so. I understand why people may see me as selfish at times, but what they do not realize is that I still struggle with the fact that I do have chronic pain. Although I am thrilled I am living a happy life despite chronic pain, it still saddens me that I am unable to do everything I would be able to do had it not been for my invisible illness.

I beg all of you not to allow (or at least try not to allow) what others say to you regarding how you choose to live your life affect you – and this goes for everyone. I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t, so to speak. If I do not manage pain in a healthy manner I will be a miserable mess and people will call me selfish because I cannot really do anything. But if I manage pain naturally I am also called selfish because I have to set my own limitations. So what is the lesson in that? You have to do what you know intuitively is right for you.  

If you are not taking care of yourself as only you know how to do, then you are not helping anyone, especially yourself. People will always talk and have an opinion. Tune that crap out. None of you are selfish people. I know you are all doing the best you can and if you had a choice, you would not have chronic pain. You are not selfish people; you are survivors.

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

Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: January 20, 2017
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