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15 Photos Women Wish Those Who Doubted Their Pain Could See

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When women come forward with their struggle with chronic pain and invisible illness, far too often they are confronted with doubt and judgment. “You just have to toughen up,” friends and family might say. “If you just deal with your anxiety and depression, you’ll feel better,” doctors often advise. Women already have a history of being told they are “hysterical“; in modern times, that may translate into women having to wait longer in the emergency room to receive pain medication and for women with endometriosis going undiagnosed for an average of 10 years.

While people shouldn’t need to see visible “evidence” that a woman is in pain in order to believe her (especially because for some illnesses, there are very few if any outward signs of pain), the sad truth is that having photos that demonstrate how much pain a woman is in, or an explanation of what was going on “behind the scenes” despite the fact that she “looked well,” can force people to sit up and take notice. We asked our Mighty community to share a photo they wish people who think women “exaggerate” or make up their pain could see.

The photos and stories they shared make it impossible to ignore the fact that so many women have experienced doubt and shame just because they have invisible pain. Let’s raise awareness that when a woman says she is in pain — believe her.

Here’s what our Mighty community shared with us:

1. “This was a few years ago but was one of my worst pain days. I had ice packs on my head to try to make the pain go away. I ended up going to the hospital later and getting the ‘headache cocktail’ there. When even doctors act like our pain isn’t real, we second-guess ourselves and put off getting help because we aren’t even sure of ourselves. Thankfully my pain doesn’t get that bad very often but it’s still frustrating when people think you’re making it up or tell you ‘it can’t be that bad.’” — Erin P.

woman with ice pack on her head

2. “This is a couple of days after I got my head fused to my neck. It was extremely painful. I need to get more of my neck fused. I know what pain is. If I speak up about the pain, it’s because I hurt badly. When the pain is mild, I usually don’t say anything.” — Megan M.

woman in hospital wearing neck brace

3. “Me always laying with my heating pad. I immediately come home and grab it. It takes everything for me to make it through a day between endometriosis, autoimmune disease, heart disease, asthma, allergies, Raynaud’s and migraines.” — Jae M.

woman lying down with heating pad

4. “These pictures were taken less than 24 hours apart. On the left I’m smiling, happy volunteering and on the right I just woke up from surgery for an obstructed bowel. I’ve had at least four bowel obstructions and they are unbelievably painful.” — Jolene D.

side by side photos of woman looking healthy and in the hospital

5. “Amazing what a wig, some makeup and a smile can hide, isn’t it!? Breast cancer and subsequent chemotherapy and its side effects. Still got a long, long, long way to go. Plus the added ‘bonus’ of being plagued by a chronic orthopedic condition and endometriosis!” — Laura M.

arm with iv, woman with short hair and woman wearing long gray wig

6.Walking hurts. Plus I fall over a lot or faint, and even just standing for a while is unpleasant. I’m not safe to drive so I rely on public transport or taxis which are expensive. And yet I still don’t qualify for PIP.” — Nicci H.

woman outside on grass with caption about sitting in the mud waiting for the bus

7. “This is where you can usually find me, in bed. There’s no ‘Mom come here!’ The kids know they have to come to me. I’m home all the time now which they think is great, but it’s because I am in so much pain I’m afraid to enter the workforce… I can’t be the active mom, wife, woman I should and want to be. The family is so used to it, they have become desensitized to my pain. I smile because she made me for the picture, but it hurts me every time they do these things normal kids wouldn’t normally have to do.” — Danielle M.

woman cuddling young daughter

8. “Here’s me with no teeth. I started losing my teeth at 19 and they were all gone by 27. I was toothless for two years and I finally have dentures now. (Thanks, Ehlers-Danlos.) It took four surgeries, one of which there was so much blood and I was so swollen I couldn’t take any pain meds for 12 hours after. And yeah, losing whole chunks of my teeth hurt. And this is only the most visible of the things EDS has done to my body, which is slowly shutting down.” — Courtney S.

woman smiling to show she doesn't have teeth

9. “Just because I took time to do my makeup to not look so bad doesn’t mean I am not in pain. Yes I am a woman and that has nothing to do with how much pain I can take. Shortly after this picture was taken I was in tears from walking just a few steps. I am making the best [of it] and yes I am a woman but that does not mean my pain is not valid.” — Susan D.

woman selfie in car

10. “Endometriosis causes me to bloat severely at times. Can’t fake that!” — Laura M.

two mirror selfies of a woman's stomach, left side looking normal and right side swollen

11. “This night, I got dressed up cute and did my makeup to go see my friends play with their band, and then to go bowling with some other friends. I’d been dealing with a headache for weeks and that night was no different. Though I looked perfectly fine, the pain I was hiding was intense. I had to go home early despite my best efforts.” — Jordan H.

selfie of woman

12. “Swollen joints, ankles, feet, knees; can’t walk, cramping fingers, hair loss, seizures, migraines, episcleritis — recurring, blurred vision, pain, swelling in my eye sockets, steroid shots directly in my eye, dry eyes, anemic, brain fog, weight gain, weight loss, constant fatigue. And constantly being asked what’s wrong with you.” — Cheyenne M.

woman's eye with redness in whites

13. “Me on the left is in the hospital with a heart monitor, poked 36 times for an IV, hospitalized for six days (just one of my stays of 13 in one and a half years), pancreatic failure at 21 due to a gene mutation. I have inflammatory bowel disease, ankylosing spondylitis and chronic pancreatitis on top of it. My message is that yeah, on the right I look ‘normal,’ but my insides will tell you otherwise. I have an invisible illness.” — Ashley S.

side by side photos of woman wearing hospital gown and photo of her wearing regular clothes

14. “Flare-up… so tired and in so much pain! No fake smile, no makeup, no photo filter, which I usually use a lot so I look healthier, happy and normal…” — Sandrine D.

woman closing her eyes cuddling cat

15.I wish people knew how I would give anything to be the beautiful young lady walking through the store again. You know, the confident one with high heels on, professional dress and on her game. That was me before I got sick, that’s who I was. I got looks (the good kind), hellos from people walking by and I was treated like I was somebody, I felt like I mattered. Then overnight my life changed and now I’m the one walking slow, getting looks (the bad kind) and hurtful comments… I want others to know that disabled people do matter. We try harder than you know to feel and look normal, not just to try to fit into society, but for ourselves to make ourselves feel better about our situation as well.” — Kristine C.

woman sitting in car

Originally published: November 12, 2018
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