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How Looking Young Can Be a Disadvantage When You Live With Chronic Pain

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I recently turned 40, but thanks to genetics and a little bit of hair color, I don’t look it. But when you live with any type of chronic pain condition, being young or looking young can have its disadvantages.

With my chronic back pain conditions and fibromyalgia, I most certainly don’t feel “young.” Medical providers often tell me I’m “way too young to have all these issues” or I’m “way too young to have had that many surgeries.”

Don’t they think I know this already? I’ve been thinking that very same thing almost every day of my life. I’ve also been thinking about how little the medical community has to offer me and the fact that living another 40 years isn’t an unreasonable accomplishment. But it’s just a hard reality when your body hurts so badly or it takes every bit of strength you can muster up to get out of bed in the morning.

I wish sometimes my family, friends, medical providers and others could see on the outside how I really feel on the inside. I think it would put things into perspective for them, and they would understand what I live with each day a lot better. I believe compassion and understanding would most certainly play a bigger role. It’s always been acceptable in the world to hear an elderly person say they have aches and pains, but if someone young complained of a single ache, they would be deemed too young for that.

I consider myself a positive person who has always cared for others. It’s in my nature to put others before myself. That’s just the caregiver side of me. I try my best to be bubbly, positive and always have a smile. In my mind, it helps protect those around me, but it also doesn’t help how people think about how my pain conditions affect my life. 

In conversations I’ve had with other people with fibromyalgia, so many of us seem to being the caregiver type, overachievers and a do-it-yourself types. So when we hit a brick wall with our fibromyalgia, it literally feels like it’s stealing your life away as you know it.

You try your hardest to be yourself, but find out quickly every time you overdo it, it knocks you down once again. And you pay the price every time. Your sentence consists of a fibro flare, which can last for days, weeks or sometimes even months. I’ve had to teach myself to slow down, to take breaks in between household duties and only participate in the things that matter most to myself and my loved ones. I’m slowly learning that it’s OK to put myself first once in awhile, to say no and to make my health a priority.

I want people to have more compassion or be more understanding about those of us whom have no choice but to learn to live with the chronic pain conditions we’ve been dealt. Just because we might look young doesn’t mean we aren’t in pain. If my pain was as evident on the exterior as it is on the interior, you’d probably think I had been in an accident.

With my particular chronic pain conditions, everything I do results an increase in pain. I get tired of hearing, “Well, you shouldn’t have done that” or “Do you think you should be doing that?”

Don’t expect me to sit in a hard chair for hours to celebrate your birthday, but then tell me I shouldn’t have rode an hour away to my favorite shopping stores because now I’m facing even more challenges. That’s why it’s so important for people look beneath my youthful exterior and try their best to understand and have compassion.

I never asked for an abundance of medical conditions. Nobody ever does. But we will live with the pain, and with your compassion, understanding and, hopefully, your simple accommodations, we will live a better life and not allow the pain to define us.

Every person has a story to be told, no matter how young or old. Never assume our exterior reveals the whole thing. Our exterior is only one chapter. There’s so much more beneath it — even at 40. 

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Image via Thinkstock Images

Originally published: November 9, 2016
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