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Finding the Strength to Say 'I'm in Pain'

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I’ve had a bad habit of always internalizing what I was feeling. This is mostly the result of growing up in an environment that punished human emotions and belittled feelings of pain, deeming it wrong to share things like a person’s physical struggles and labeling it as “complaining.” I was told someone always had it worse, so what I was experiencing wasn’t bad. I needed to be thankful, period.

Because of that conditioning, I didn’t learn how to translate what my body was trying to tell me. From my physical health to my mental health, I didn’t truly have the skills to gauge how I was doing and definitely hadn’t learned to speak up to ask for help. I’m not sure I even knew I needed help.

Because of this, I didn’t understand how to make boundaries to protect my physical and mental health. I wasn’t able to know when my body needed rest because “someone always had it worse than me.” While that may have been true, it didn’t change the fact that I was struggling. I continued to struggle, but even worse, I couldn’t take care of myself.

It’s taken me a lot to get to this point in my journey where I’m gradually learning to decipher my needs and how to communicate them. It’s a trial and error thing. Some days, I get it right. Others, I feel incredibly lost and have no clue.

Giving myself permission to feel was probably the first and most game-changing step in the entire process. I had to let myself feel the feels. All of them. I had to evaluate my pain first before I could share it with others. I had to validate myself and show my body the same courtesy I would give to anyone else. Making myself and my health a priority wasn’t a selfish act, it was a step in self-care.

Acknowledging I was struggling was a huge step. I could be there for others, but didn’t always offer myself the same favor. I would understand if others needed rest, but wouldn’t stop for myself enough. This is part of the reason I’ve experienced burnout more than once in my life.

Feeling like I’m safe to speak up and say, “Hey, I’m struggling,” whether that’s physically, mentally or emotionally is also so vital. Part of why I internalized things was because I’d receive judgment whenever I did speak up. My pain would be dismissed so easily and that hurt me beyond the physical pain I was feeling. Feeling safe and heard so you can speak up about your struggles is priceless.

It’s the simple things like being too warm while on a car ride with others and finding a way to ask to turn the heat down in winter because I’m burning up. Or, asking for space when you’re feeling overwhelmed and need a mental health day to yourself. Then, there is actively working on not always internalizing everything. It’s such a habitual process ingrained into me that I don’t always realize it.

I can hide my discomfort so well, even from doctors. They’ll have to sometimes constantly ask and encourage me to share with them. Are you cold? Are you hurting worse? Is this exercise hurting your back more? Do you need a break? I’ve had numerous medical professionals comment on how I don’t show my discomfort even though they know it’s there. I didn’t realize this until I started working on my health. Learning to be mindful of my thoughts and feelings is so important. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helps in this area of my health.

Communication is still a tricky process for me. I’m always learning. I hold back often, mostly out of habit. The difference is I’m learning that I’m actually holding back, which is key to sharing. Once you’re aware of it, you can make a change and make an effort at communicating. The more you do it, the more it comes naturally over time.

I never knew how much strength it would take to say, “I’m in pain.” I never knew how much of a difference it would make to not only say that, but take a step out and ask for help. I never knew then what I know now and that is speaking up and advocating for your health is one of the biggest gifts you can give to yourself.

Unsplash image by Averie Woodard.

Originally published: April 14, 2021
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