Confessions of a (chronic pain) graduate student

I usually hope that being chronically ill has softened my edges. I hope that it has made me more observant of whether or not something is accessible, that I understand that everyone has stories I do not know, that illnesses are frequently unseen. That I am always aware of the fact that there are those who are far worse off than me. I hope it has made me more accepting of the fact that things impact different people in different ways, and a small problem to one person may be an insurmountable barrier to another.

Occasionally, though, there are moments when being hurt and sick all the time change me into something that feels like broken crystal in every way, an invisible weapon of razor sharp edges. There are times when rage and jealousy rear their dark ugly heads and I find myself wanting to scream at someone for complaining about mild allergies, a busy social calendar, or a frickin’ hangover! I want to shake them and scream about everything I can’t do!! I want to holler about how they made choices, they could make those choices!!! I want to cry and kick my heels and pound my fists on the floor like a small child, wailing about how I wish I had the chance to have that particular problem at all. It costs, in those black moments rimmed with the red of pure fury, to put a smile on my face and sympathize, as I sometimes must do.

But it costs far more to lose it. It can cost me a friendship. It can cost me a connection to another person, one who may legitimately just need the space to process a decision or an emotion. It can belittle another human being whose fault is not being me. It will cost me a part of myself, as well, in the end, to give in to my own enraged impulse. Yes, occasionally there may come a time to gently point out that, compared to others, things may not be so bad, and perhaps a little perspective is in order. But that shouldn’t be a gut-reaction from my own pain and frustration… and so I will continue to struggle. And when I lose that struggle, as occasionally I do, to apologize humbly and with whatever grace is lent to me at the moment.




1 Comment

  1. I can relate to this so well! Recently I had to cancel an invitation from a friend because I was “sick.” Truth was, I couldn’t get up from bed to so much as use the bathroom that weekend, without needing to throw up out of the pain and exhaustion. I didn’t want to share any gory details, but I tried to explain the problem by saying I have barely even been able to be at work for more than a couple of hours a day (and this was the week after). This friend is recovering from a minor back injury too, and so she said she could understand, she felt the same way. I realized she was trying to be empathetic, but I knew that she went out on a lunch date that weekend. And that is *not* the “same” thing as not being able to rise from bed! And I felt just like you, like screaming how she didn’t really understand – in fact, she had no clue! – but I didn’t. People can only imagine horrors to the extent that they have experienced. For the most part, our troubles are beyond the realms of imagination for most people our age.

    Incidentally, this same friend once got in the car with me and announced that she was “exhausted”. And there she was coming out on a luncheon and grocery shopping with us. I would not call that being “exhausted” but I need to recognize that where she is coming from (her own perspective) and keep my mouth shut. Or I could try to explain my version of “exhaustion” . . . but then it sounds like you’re in some sort of a “I’m-worse-off-than-you” game, which can get ugly. So I stay very quiet and try to sympathize best I can.

    I often also feel envy at people in acute pain, like a sprain or something, when they complain. I envy that eventually they will heal, they will get better… if they complain now, take a few days off from work, everybody can sympathize… but with chronic pain, you just gotta push through that pain, every single day. I am not sure most people can even imagine what that is like. :/ I don’t think there’s anything wrong feeling these things, as long as we don’t react outwardly to them and hurt people who mean no harm.

    Liked by 1 person

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