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What It's Really Like Being a Teenager With Chronic Pain

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Having a chronic illness and struggling with chronic pain sucks for anyone. I am not saying it is worse when you are a teenager, this is only my experience. Adolescence is a difficult and exciting time, when young people make discoveries, decisions and plans about their futures, and develop a sense of who they are and their place in the world. But when you are a young person with chronic pain, this period can be extremely challenging.

Pain can make it difficult for young people to sleep, take part in extracurricular activities, concentrate, attend school and go out with friends or family. Research from all around the world consistently shows young people with chronic pain report higher levels of anxiety, depression, isolation and relationship challenges compared to their “pain-free” friends. Many of us have a hard time trying to fit in, and we can feel like there is nowhere we belong and nobody who seems to understand us.

Living day-to-day with an unpredictable chronic illness makes it hard to sustain regular relationships and make plans. If you’re struggling with it, you’ll know the feeling of hopelessness that comes with being chronically ill. We are burdened with worries. About everything. This isolates us from friends because we are living with needs they are often not able to understand. They see a “normal” teenager, but that’s because we work hard to mask our discomfort and try to fit in. They don’t recognize it takes effort to do what they take for granted. Whether it is something for fun or necessities, it often takes us more time, and way more energy.

Sharing our medical conditions often brings pity instead of understanding. And it’s easy enough to forget and impossible to truly relate to when you don’t live with them yourself. So, we isolate ourselves. Many young people with chronic illness must sit by and watch others their age participate in activities that are out of reach for them. It feels like pain robs us of opportunities.

Another issue is pain in young people is treated as if it can’t possibly be chronic. Not only do we feel disregarded because of this, but we can start to question our own perceptions and judgment:

Is my body really this sick?

Am I really in pain?

Is it all in my head?

Am I faking it?

This can lead to self-recrimination and damage a young person’s self-esteem. Hearing hurtful comments is one of the most frustrating parts, I’d say. People say things like, “You’re too young to be in pain.” Or, “You would feel better if you didn’t lay down all day.” No matter what our diagnosis is, we are continually told we can’t possibly be in chronic pain at our age. It’s just anxiety, they say.

Chronic illness is a full-time job young people need to adapt to and learn how to manage. We shouldn’t be dealing with this at our age, but we don’t have any other choice. If my peers could really see what I struggle with every day, it would make them feel dizzy. Managing our medications, its side effects, poor sleep, pain and fatigue and everything else that comes with a chronic illness is hard work. But a good thing about teenagers is that we can adapt easily and learn fast.

My heart goes out to every young person battling a chronic illness. It seems impossible and it is hard as hell, but we are strong and we can do it. Life sucks and it’s unfair sometimes, but we do the best we can with what we have. And, oh boy, do we strive. Despite the difficulties and challenges we face daily, here we are. We keep going. We keep trying. And that’s what truly matters.

Getty image by Finn Hafemann

Originally published: April 1, 2021
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