‘I’m stronger because I had to be. I’m smarter because of my mistakes. I’m happier because of the sadness I’ve known and now wiser because I learned from my life.’
As a person who lives with chronic pain, pain is not new to me.
Unfortunately, it still is a daily struggle that tugs at every aspect of my life. I am coming up to my one year anniversary. This isn’t the type of anniversary to go out and buy flowers and chocolate for. This anniversary marks when life changed for me, and every day since I look back and wish I could be the person I was before. Guess what though? Life doesn’t work like that. I don’t get three wishes from a genie to make everything rainbows and sunshine. This is real life and sometimes real life can suck.
It’s okay to not be okay
Right now, I am learning how to be strong. Right now, I am learning how to pretend. Right now, I am learning to live a normal life while pain consumes my body and mind. Right now, I am learning to be okay when I’m not okay.
Smiles can show many different emotions. They can show when you are truly happy but they can also hide pain and hurt. Don’t ever underestimate a smile; you never truly know what’s hiding behind it. I have become a pro at smiling and hiding how bad I truly hurt all the time. Yes, I take pride in waking up every morning, applying my mascara, brushing my hair, cleaning up my pets’ mess and my room, cooking and baking, etc… I do all these things with a smile on my face and pain in my heart. People often think I have it all together every single day. When pain consumes every part of who you are, you learn to pretend you are okay. When people look at you and think you are fine, sometimes you forget for a while that you’re not. For these brief moments, I can laugh and feel normal.
I am writing this so you understand that pictures on social media and the internet can be pretty and carry a smile, but you never know what is hiding behind all the prettiness. Everyone has their struggle and nobody has a perfect life. If you are going through a struggle, IT IS okay to not smile, to let people see it, to let people know you are NOT okay. This may make them aware,maybe even lead them to comfort you. It takes a lot to let your true feelings be known, but what’s not okay is to pretend, to take that weight on your shoulders and smile when there is a fire brewing up inside of you. It is okay to cry, it’s okay to lie in bed and rest.
But you have to remember, life is what you make it, regardless of the trials, I intend to make life fun, enjoyable, memorable, happy, and adventurous, even with non-stop pain. Yes, you will have days where you can no longer pretend, and that’s fine, but you have to remember when you hit rock bottom the only way is up.
Negativity is a choice
We can sometimes get caught up in negativity be it when life throws us a curve ball such as a chronic illness, or even when people chuck positivity in our faces. We have to remember, though, that negativity is a choice just as happiness is. We all deserve to be negative every once in a while; what we are going through is crap. Let’s face it, it sucks having a chronic illness, however like the saying goes ‘turn that frown upside down’. There are positives in everything, even if they are hard to see. Trust me, I know how minuscule some positives are, but they sure are there. For example, I am allergic to the hot and the cold, so when I’m in Tesco’s Freezer section, boy do I get happy when I have a heat flare. A small positive, but there nonetheless.
You can either base your happiness on conditions (‘I’ll be happy if this happens’) or you can make it unconditional. It’s a precious commitment and it’s something that needs to be worked on everyday but I’d rather spend my energy on this than waste it on feeling crappy.
Also, be aware of how it affects others when you choose to contaminate them with negativity. Something I have realised is that when I am feeling negative, it rubs off onto others. This is the last thing I want to do. Negativity is something that can creep in if we don’t have enough awareness, so being able to observe our thoughts and behaviours is key.
Google is not a doctor
When we self-diagnose, we are essentially assuming that we know what our symptoms have mounted up to. This can be so dangerous, as people who assume that they can surmise what is going on with them may miss the nuances of diagnosis. For example, people with mood swings often think that they have bipolar disorder. However, mood swings are a symptom that can be a part of many different clinical scenarios including borderline personality disorder and major depression. All in all a doctor or therapist can help you discern whether you swing from normal to down or down to up, and by considering how long the mood swings last and other factors, the health professional can make the appropriate diagnosis.
This is something I have had to learn, not so much self diagnosing, but trying to find the root of a symptom. We have all done it–googling what a new symptom is, whether it is linked to an illness we already have or something new. However, self-diagnosis can have tremendous negative repercussions. For this reason, while reading is helpful and informative, I have learnt that it is always best to discuss my impressions with a doctor.
There’s no stronger bond than family
I have no idea where I would be without my family; they have managed to keep me going for so long that I am honestly impressed. I have bouts of depression where I want to be left alone and bask in my own annoyance. My family gets this; they may not like it, but they know I need to go through it to come out the other end myself again. It’s the little things that really mean a lot, like asking if I need help while cooking, or taking food out the fridge because it’s too cold for me, or turning off the heating when I get too hot. No, it’s not much, but it does make me smile.
When I was first diagnosed I felt so sorry for myself. I was 18 and my life was only just beginning, then all of a sudden it came to a standstill. I didn’t even think to consider how my family felt. Even today with new diagnoses my family are there, putting on a brave face and telling me life will have its up and downs, but they’ll be there at the end of the day to show how to make the most of it.
Don’t get me wrong we all get on each other’s nerves, but that’s family for you, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle
This goes back to the golden rule: treat others the way you’d like to be treated. Not only is this manners, but also you have no idea what hardships that person is going through. I learnt this a day into my diagnosis. Being kind is important to help you remain balanced, to help stop the vicious cycle of meanness and bitterness, as well as to help to raise the standard for those around you. It isn’t always easy, but I believe being kind is well worth the effort even if we fail from time to time.
It is so easy to ignore someone or to be mean, and that can break whoever you come into contact with. But a smile, a hello, or just your body language can make someone’s day. You have no idea what battle each and every one of us is facing, so make a difference, give someone a smile, open the door for them, or just say hi.
All in all I have learnt so much since being diagnosed. I think everyone does, but what I find sad is that it took me to be diagnosed to learn it all. Nevertheless, I hope that what I have gained through it all I can teach others, or if not, that they learn what people who have a chronic illness go through, and they’re able to grow.
About the Author
Bethany is a 20 year old from England; she suffers from Raynauds, Erythromelalgia, GERD, Hypermobility, Anxiety, Depression, and PTSD. She is also the creator of Young, Sick and Invisible: a Chronic Illness Blog.