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When You Don't Know Who You Can Be Honest With About Your Pain

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My biggest fear as someone who has chronic pain and depression has always been honesty. Ever feel like your pain and suffering is a burden on others? If I tell them I’m fine, do I then need to prove that I’m not faking being ill, I’m faking being well? If I tell them I’m not OK, will they roll their eyes? Huff and puff like “Here she goes again?”

So how do you know who you can truly be honest with? When is it OK to say, “You know what? I’m not OK. I’m not fine. I’m in pain, I’m frustrated, and gosh-dang-it I am sick and tired of being so sick and tired!”

I was diagnosed when I was 15 – not with fibromyalgia just yet, that came roughly a year and a half later. I went to several specialists, was diagnosed with a wide of array of conditions – tendonitis, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, pain amplification syndrome, Lyme disease, etc. It wasn’t until over a year later, when all of the medications I tried were crashing and burning, when I begged my doctor to stop telling me that it was in my head, that I just needed to see a pain management specialist. No, I’m not some weak ballerina who can’t handle her overextended ankles. This is real, it is all over. I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I can’t focus! I’m exhausted from taking a shower! Something is not right! Please just listen!

Who can you trust when you feel like you can’t even trust the people whose job it is to “fix” you?

I’ve lost friends. I’ve lost close relationships with family members and with people I considered to be family. But I’ll tell you something. As hard it is to let go of close relationships, take comfort knowing that your journey with your condition will no longer be crossed by those who don’t have faith in your strength. You are a warrior. If they can’t handle that, you’re better off. Grieve the loss of a friendship for the time that it deserves, and then move on. I guarantee you can find people in your life who can handle it. Maybe you’re just looking in the wrong direction.

On the flip side, you can’t expect every good friendship in your life to be a friendship that can handle your condition. I have people in my life who I love unconditionally, people I never want to lose, and because of that, I will never truly open up to them. I will tell them I’m fine, I will tell them I’m sorry but I’m not feeling well today so I have to reschedule. But I will never tell them, “I’m staying home because I’m feeling depressed and I don’t trust myself behind the wheel of a car today” or “My pain is so unbearable I’ve screamed into my pillow all morning and thrashed around in bed begging God to take it away, to make it stop, to give me some relief before I completely lose my mind.”

But remember – this is not their fault! Not everyone has experienced pain, or loss, or depression. Until you’ve been through it either in your own life, or with someone you love, it is an extremely intricate and difficult thing to grasp and empathize with. My advice: don’t force that onto others. If you don’t think they can handle it, that’s OK. I think you should keep at least one person in your life who you open your heart and your mind to 100 percent. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll have more than one! But I can tell you from personal experience that only having one isn’t as lonely as it feels. In fact, it’s one of the most heartwarming feelings when you’re hiding your pain, when everyone is complimenting you on how great you look and how energetic you are, when you think to yourself “the mask is working,” and that one person reaches out to let you know that they know you’re not OK, they see your pain, and they’re there for you.

I don’t need gifts, I don’t need flowers or balloons, I don’t even need chocolate (OK yes, I always need chocolate). All I ask for is that love. That concern. That “I’m here” can be all it takes to unravel the darkness, to silence the mind, and to remind myself why I stuck around after all those years of convincing myself that my life wasn’t worth living.

Find your person (or your people) and hold them as tight as you possibly can. Let them know that they mean more to you than they may ever know. Tell them that you appreciate them. And on the same end, tell the people who want to be there for you that you appreciate them, too. Maybe they couldn’t handle the truth and reality of your condition, but how wonderful that they want to be there anyway.

Warriors are made in both solitude and support. I know how it feels in the darkness of your bedroom, in the silence of the shower as your tears blend with the water, and as you beg for relief time and time again. Let yourself experience those moments, vent it out to your person/people, and then dust yourself off, pick that head up, and remind yourself that you are incredible. You are strong. You are fearless. And somewhere out there is someone who sees that in you every single day.

If you can’t find that person, I will be that person for you. Warriors gotta stick together, amiright?

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Originally published: January 31, 2017
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