The Mighty Logo

When You Can't Just 'Push Through the Pain'

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

This post may get a little soap-box-like, but it’s something I need to talk about because it’s become a huge issue for me.

So, most people have heard the phrases “pushing through pain,” “no pain, no gain” and similar ones.

But when you have chronic illnesses or any illness that leaves you physically or mentally, bodily exhausted these phrases are… Well, rather annoying and very, very wrong.

It’s something a doctor or specialist wanting you to do graded exercise therapy (GET) or start physical exercise would say: “You need to learn how to push through the pain, push past it and you’ll get stronger, control it and not have it control you!” 

Which is why we now have thousands of people who tried or were bullied into GET or a exercise routine and have become severely more debilitated and set back health- and body-wise years.

Because for many of us, pushing through the pain simply doesn’t work. Pushing your body to do anything more than it should can have devastating effects on your health and body. It could push you too far and completely disable you for days, weeks months or years.

Our bodies aren’t like a healthy person’s. They cannot cope with everyday tasks, let alone 30 minutes of cardio and physical exercise and the strain it puts our muscles under. Cannot cope with the moving, lifting and shifting our body’s need to do when exercising.

Our bodies will simply revolt protest and then literally disable themselves. And us. Because they should never ever be put under this kind of strain.

“Oh, but if you exercised more you could walk better, it’s because you don’t walk a lot that you can’t walk well, try walking more and you’ll be fine again..”

Nope. Nope with a massive dollop of, “no chance in the world, no way and never ever” on top.

We are sick. We are too sick to do washing up, brushing out hair, to get out of bed. To sick to eat, read, watch TV, write. But exercise is going to help us?

Would you say that to someone who has the flu, viral infection, measles, meningitis, sepsis… Would you say, “Oh go for a run, that’ll cure you!” It would never even be suggested! So why to us? 

Is it because our lack of body ability annoys you? Frustrates you? Are our limitations are seen as lazy as our illnesses last longer than a few weeks? 

Chronic illness is just that. It’s chronic, it’s all day every day and mostly forever. We are never ever going to be cured, not unless a super drug is invented. Which we would love and rush to have because we do not want to be like this.

To be too ill to do anything. To live properly, to do anything without it making us even sicker or having a massive flare. No one would wish that for themselves. It’s not exactly a childhood dream… “When I grow up I want to become sick, lay in bed all day in agony, exhausted, living in guilt that I am unable to be the mother, lover, sister, wife, daughter that’s expected of me and I want to be, and not able to do anything without causing my body to revolt against me.”

We are sometimes even subjected to this kind of thing in our own support groups and forums. Someone reaches out for help or support in a post, at their breaking point, in so much pain they’re devastated both physically and mentally. And so many people reach back and help, and are there and in joint understanding of comfort and words of support.

But then… someone comes out with this for this person reaching out for help: “Oh well, I don’t let the pain control me. I control my doing stuff with my kids/partner/job… I push through it and it’ll never ever beat me!”

I sit there looking at the comment and suddenly I can think of something I could push… And it ain’t the pain.

Some of us are more severe than others. Some are able to work still, or do things that others who are a bit more severe cannot even think about, let alone physically able to do.

People need to realize that just because you may be able to do something, that doesn’t mean others can. And it’s not because we are lazy or can’t be bothered but simply, we cannot. Much like a lot in life, not just illness.

I am definitely not suggesting any person’s illness isn’t just as important or as serious as mine, or should be taken lightly or without the same kind of respect and recognition. Just that for a lot of us, pushing through the pain is simply not an option. And we feel awful enough about it without judgment or phrases that just do not fit into our lives, our bodies or world around us anymore. 

We don’t need to feel any more isolated, alone, misunderstood or mentally anguished than we already do.

Please think before uttering such phrases, suggestions or comments to someone who is chronically ill, for us living in a world of such pain and our loved ones who are also affected by it. 

Originally published: October 7, 2016
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