Hi there! I’m sick. Not in a perverse way, although some would beg to differ. I mean, I’m sick in the autoimmune sense of the word. I’m sick in the “my digestive organs are a hot ass mess” way. The list of things that are wrong with me, physically, looks like what happens when someone is trying to meet the word count on a term paper.
One of the most common experiences I have in being surrounded by able-bodied people is that they often don’t feel “allowed” to feel like shit from time to time. They don’t feel comfortable telling me they’re in pain, or having the flu or a cold, because to them, it doesn’t compare to what I deal with. And I can understand that mindset. I can. It makes sense. But the reality is, it’s not an accurate depiction of life with versus without chronic pain/illness.
For me, I’d imagine it’s quite the reverse, frankly. I mean, I live with constant sickness and pain, so I’ve adapted, as much as is possible. I do have days that are worse than others, sure. But for the most part, it’s just a part of who and what I am. But for able-bodied people, that’s not their default setting. So when they have a headache, or pull a muscle, or have a sinus infection or what have you, they go from feeling healthy and “normal” to feeling like the world has beat the hell out of them with a 2×4, and life slows down drastically.
But my friends and loved ones aren’t comfortable telling me they feel awful. They know I can empathize. They know I absolutely care how they’re feeling, and I don’t want them to hurt, but they don’t want to tell me. When they finally do tell me, I get a disclaimer: “I know I don’t feel as bad as you do every single day, so I don’t want to complain.” Wow. Not to make this all about me, but it sucks when they say that.
It sucks because it means that they feel they have to tiptoe around me. They feel that their pain isn’t valid, just because I have pain. They don’t feel comfortable saying they’re sick, even when they’re bedridden, because someone else (me, in these specific scenarios) always has it worse.
But here’s the thing: my pain doesn’t negate your pain. No one’s pain negates your pain, be it physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological. You’re allowed to hurt, and to express your hurt. Pain is completely relative, and we all experience it in very different ways. Yes, there will literally always be someone who’s hurting much worse than you are, but you can’t let that guilt you into not processing what you’re going through. That’s unhealthy and dangerous.
I read somewhere, and can’t find it again to save my life, that whether you’ve drowned in an inch of water or in seven feet of water, you’ve still drowned. Suffering isn’t a competition. Agony isn’t a race. Pain is pain, no matter the context.