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To Everyone Who Asks Me Why I Smile Through the Pain

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In today’s society, it is really easy to judge someone before getting to know them. We look at a person and quickly make a first opinion based on outside appearance. But how do we know what that person is really like, what they are going through, their struggles, their strengths, and their weaknesses? I struggle with reflex sympathetic dystrophy/complex regional pain syndrome. It is not easy and I hurt all the time, but for the most part, when someone looks at me all they see is a “normal” person.

Having an “invisible” illness is very hard to deal with when trying to fit in with the rest of the crowd. For me, I have had eight years of living with chronic pain. In the beginning, putting on a happy face was hard. Now, putting on a smile is just second nature. The pain never goes away. No, people living with chronic pain don’t get “used to it” and we probably never will. But that makes us fight even harder to live our lives.

We get up and “push through the pain” with a smile on our face. I am a gymnast. I will be in the gym laughing the entire time, even when I fall. But inside, my body feels like it’s falling apart. I can feel the agonizing pain that is slowly consuming my thoughts. I smile as I get up after falling and walk back to try again. I smile as I land a skill on my feet but the impact feels like a stab to my ankle. I will smile when my friends come over and ask me how I am and I reply with “I’m fine.” I will smile when I am trying to put my shoes and socks on even though my hypersensitivity is making it too hard for me to even touch my feet. And I will smile when I leave the gym and I go home. But the minute I am alone, I am not smiling.

Smiling helps me feel OK. It helps me think I belong with everyone else. If I don’t, my mood will change and it will be a downhill spiral. Even when I feel like crying, I smile. The thought of being a burden on someone is the scariest thought. I don’t want people to have to ask me if I am hurting every time they see me.

So why smile? We mostly smile because we are sick of living our lives thinking we are doing something wrong. I refuse to walk around upset every single day and sulk. We smile because it reminds us that we are strong even when we feel like our illness is winning. We smile because we have people who love and support us and we don’t want to let them down.

We smile.

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Originally published: November 11, 2016
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