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To the People Who Think I'm Not in Pain Because I'm Smiling

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First, I had a career. I had hobbies, one of which was exercising and taking all kinds of classes like kickboxing, yoga and Pilates. I also had a husband who could not handle my recovery, so he moved on. I am a mother of a beautiful 25-year-old daughter. I have a Pomeranian that needs to be fed, walked and cared for. I have family I love. 

I suffer from degenerative disc disease and have had a triple fusion in my cervical spine, as well as three back surgeries. My neck has never healed properly, and my left arm is almost always hurting on some level. I have had people say to me, “But you look fine,” and I have been asked if I am disabled as I parked my car in the handicapped spot.

woman sitting on a rock outside

I would like people to know that to survive and try to get out in the world, I have learned to hide my pain, do my hair and get out every once in awhile. If I am smiling, it does not mean my pain isn’t there. I have limited energy, so if I go out for a few hours or to a family event the next day, I will be tired. I have lost friends because they were either acquaintances or didn’t want to be around a “sick person.” 

The isolation can at times be worse then the pain itself. I can’t even count how many family parties I have missed entirely or have had to lie down and ice my neck and take a nap so I could drive myself home. There are times I have to cancel plans at the last minute, which I used to feel guilty about, but I have learned to know my limits. 

I have depression due to all of this, wondering why this happened to my body. I miss the energy I used to have. People say, “At least it isn’t cancer,” and I do agree, but that does not mean I don’t have a hard life. 

I wish people had more empathy for anyone who has a chronic illness of any kind. I wish they knew how much I miss working and socializing and that I would give anything to have the “old me” back. I feel guilty that my daughter worries about me so much and that I can’t drive far or my neck will go into spasms. The list goes on, but this is my new way of life, and I am fighting and doing my best to survive.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: January 28, 2016
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