The Mighty Logo

5 Frustrating Situations When You're Young and Have Chronic Pain

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Being a young person looks physically and mentally fit on the outside has its downsides. I, along with many other young people, live my life with invisible illnesses – both mentally and physically. I live my life every day in constant physical pain as a result of disc degeneration and nerve damage in my lumbar spine, which affects my hips and down to my toes. I have recently been told this pain is for life. Sometimes it feels the wider world forgets younger people can struggle with mobility and pain problems too. Because of this assumption, it can make you feel like you’re not entitled to struggle too.

Here are five ways our struggles are real:

1. Public transport

You have somewhere to be just like everyone else, but you can’t stand for the whole journey – yet the train or bus is busy, so you take the last seat or the one designated for the elderly and disabled. However, soon more people get on who are looking for seats, and they see you, a young person with no disability to be seen.

To some people, you become the bad person. You are expected to give up your seat because you are young and you look just fine. The truth is, you aren’t fine. You are in pain. You are tired, you’ve taken medication to help you get through the day, you feel dizzy or “out of it,” and you have every right to sit in that seat. You need that seat and you know that in your heart, but they almost make you feel ashamed. When someone asks you to give up your seat, you don’t feel you can say no. How do you explain this to a stranger? If you say no, you are an arrogant young person. If you move, you have to endure the pain. Sadly, you usually feel guilt tripped into the latter.

2. University Lectures

Sitting can be as bad as standing. As a university student, for a person without pain or mobility problems, sitting on seat with a millimeter of cushioning is hard. When you do have pain and mobility problems it can be torture sitting through a two hour lecture – even with cushy seats. There comes a point when you can’t take it any longer, but you can’t bring yourself to walk out of a room filled with people because then you become an object of attention. I get anxious at the thought of me limping out of a lecture in a room with 100 people who don’t know me. What if the lecturer says something? What if my leg gives way and I fall in front of everybody? It is because of this I struggle and fidget through the pain 90 percent of the time

3. Being Social Sucks

Even with the pain, you still want to be with your friends and have fun. You are young, you should be having the time of your life. This means sometimes we push ourselves too much, simply just to keep up. It’s not your friend’s fault, but you envy their ability to be able to walk or run anywhere. You envy their ability to just go anywhere with no pain, and you feel bad sometimes when they change their plans to suit you. You may even beat yourself up instead of realizing how great your friends are for keeping you in mind. In the moment when you’re out with your friends you feel good – you’ve not let the pain win, and you are being young and having fun. But, you still have a nagging feeling you will regret it later, so you hold on to every funny moment to remind yourself it was worth it.

4. Convincing the Doctors

I’m sure we can all relate to countless doctor’s appointments were you feel you haven’t been taken seriously. There’s frustration of walking out of the room and being told to “do yoga and Pilates” or “go for a swim.” When you are a teenager its growing pains or a pulled muscle. When you’re in your 20s it’s because you are slouching, because of your diet or not enough exercise.

If you know something isn’t right, keep going. Don’t let the frustration or embarrassment win. You know your body better than anyone. I was told for two years my back pain was growing pains or chronic fatigue syndrome (which I did have, in all fairness). In reality, I had a slipped disc compressing a nerve that needed surgery. Three years after the surgery, that disc has now degenerated and cannot be fixed. I’m in constant pain and the nerve is still damaged. They didn’t expect it because I was young, but age doesn’t always mean there isn’t something wrong.

5. You Feel 70 at 21

The times when you can’t get out of the bed, you can’t get up or down the stairs, the times you can’t walk down the street – you feel like you have the body of an elderly person. Every day you do your stretches, you take your painkillers and you slowly walk or limp around. It’s hard to remember a time when movement was easy. You can’t possibly be the age you are with a body like this. You have countless doctor’s appointments, scans and medication reviews. Your bags and pockets rattle with tablets, you get judgmental looks when you take them in public, and sometimes a stereotype may be assumed that your pills are illegal because of your age and appearance. You dread what you will be like once you do get to 70, but try not to think that far ahead. You have to take it day by day.

Why did I write this list? It’s not very positive or uplifting. In reality, we can’t always be positive. Sometimes what we need is to find relief in seeing you aren’t alone, to laugh along as you relate with your own experiences. By seeing these things it emphasizes you aren’t alone, that you aren’t wrong for sitting in that seat, you aren’t being anti-social by saying no to your friends. The important thing is to look after yourself and your body. You can still have fun and you can still be taken seriously. Don’t let anybody make you feel ashamed for standing up for yourself and trying to make your life better for you – because a happy you is what matters.

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

Getty image by GizemBDR

Originally published: February 2, 2018
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