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When My Parents' Response to My Pain Was 'You're Fine'

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“You’re fine.”

The worst advice my mother ever gave me is more mantra than advice. Something she repeated every time I complained that my ankle or wrist hurt, or that time I vacuumed the living room on my knees and she and my dad laughed and took my picture.

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I always wondered if there was a brief moment when she thought I might not be fine. A glimmer of something, or a feeling. When the blood work I had at 11 came back normal, and again at 14, and 17, did she know? What mother wants something to be wrong with their child? I think it’s much easier to say, “See, you’re fine,” and be on your way.

Sometimes I would smack my joints against walls or door frames, begging for bruises or swelling. If there was external evidence of my pain, they couldn’t ignore it, right? I was convinced they’d stop telling me I’m a hypochondriac if there’s proof. In middle school, I got a tendonitis diagnosis. It was only my right wrist, but it was something! I got a brace and two weeks without gym class while symptoms elsewhere persisted.

After a while, I grew tired of not feeling listened to. I grew tired of my parents not trusting me to know my body, to know when something isn’t right, even if I was still just a kid. My mother never put much stock in intuition.

“You’re fine.”

The best advice my mother ever gave me has more power in the intention than the words. That lack of recognition gave me the power to seek answers elsewhere, the encouragement to listen to my own body, and the voice to advocate for myself. That advocacy led me to seek out a rheumatologist at age 22. It led me to an orthopedic surgeon, a physical therapist, and a psychiatrist, and, finally, a diagnosis: Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.

Ultimately, though, I am stronger because I went unheard. So even on those days I feel miserable and all I can manage for dinner is a bowl of cereal and some peanut butter, I am proud of myself. I am a proud advocate of myself. I am proud that I allowed myself the courage to speak up when my parents did not.

I still get exhausted vacuuming.

Follow this journey on Chronically Knitting.

Originally published: May 3, 2016
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