Wait what? Oh right. It’s not normal to be in constant pain. Not everybody feels this way.
Like of course I know that when I think about. But I got confused for a second.
My brain went straight to “Wait what do you mean?? What else would I be??”. I don’t know what it says about me, that for a second, the whole concept of not being in pain just seemed completely foreign to me.
The question was an innocent one, asked by a new classmate at uni. We’re doing a group project together, so I decided to be honest about my limitations (and they’ve actually been really good about it).
The last time I was a student, I lied.
Kept it secret, deflected when asked about why I missed classes and meetings. And it hurt me. It made me hurt myself, because I couldn’t get myself to ask for small breaks or accomodation of any kind (even though everyone needs it in some way, like rescheduling group meetings because they have to work, and so on).
So I’ve stopped lying. Though I don’t bring it up unless I feel it’s relevant. I don’t always tell the whole truth either. Depends on the situation – who’s asking, when, how – and how vulnerable I want to be. I don’t owe anyone anything.
On the surface, I look perfectly healthy. But if you pay attention there’s signs, subtle signs of my suffering. Like I can be restless when I sit. Moving my upper body in a weird way, searching for a comfortable position. Touching my neck because it distracts my brain from the pain for a second or two. My bike has a side mirror. I wear a belt bag and my school bag has wheels. I have to use the elevators to get around. There’s more, but you wouldn’t spot them unless you already know.
The lack of visibility can invite questions, and sometimes disbelief. I don’t always feel up to explaining or putting myself in that vulnerable position (the why’s, the “You look fine”, the “Have you tried yoga/celery juice/whatever?”. Or even worse, the icky, icky pity). So my answers will fall somewhere on the scale of “I’m not feeling up for it” to “I better not, I have neck problems” to “I have complex chronic neck pain that significantly limits my ability to perform normal daily living activities”. How’s that for fun small talk?
I don’t know if you can understand the difference between then and now. But to me and how I feel about myself, there’s an important distinction between holding back because of shame and fear of judgement vs holding back because that’s what I’ve decided to.
Yes I’m in pain. Even right now.
I’m not defined by it, nor am I ashamed of it.