If you saw this person at your nearby playground would you ever believe she has had brain surgery and as a result will live with chronic pain the rest of her life? Absolutely not. Now, if you saw this same girl with tears rolling down her eyes and curled up alone on the swings would you believe this girl is pretty depressed or sick? Obviously. This is the issue with an invisible illness. People probably do not believe me at times. This is me. This is the picture of a girl who almost died following a bike accident, had brain surgery, lived in Minnesota two times for treatment, had multiple surgeries, and lives every day in physical pain. If I did not have chronic pain and this was not me I probably would have a hard time believing it myself. This used to bother me, a lot! The people in my lives who were with me following brain surgery obviously believed I was not making up the fact that I had constant pain. However, people who met me years later may have thought I was just seeking attention. I definitely was not seeking attention but I was crying out for help. I wanted someone, anyone to help get rid of this nagging pain that never went away. I wanted someone to hold me while I cried for hours because I thought I would have to live in this misery for the rest of my life. I wanted a solution. I did not want people to give up on me. Back before I learned how to manage my pain, I wanted the whole world to know that I had chronic pain. I did not want people to think that I was being rude or boring or just a basket case constantly crying. I wanted people to know: “This is not the real Jessica! This is the Jessica who is in pain 24/7 and has not one answer on how to keep going.” I would have worn a sign that said: Not a Bitch, I’m just in pain!
Now at the age of 32 I don’t really care if anyone knows I have chronic pain. In fact, I would rather them not know. That sounds crazy as I’m writing an entire blog regarding my chronic pain but I’m not really writing it for myself. I do not want help. I do not want sympathy. I never want to even say out loud the words chronic pain. I never want someone to suggest a new doctor or new treatment. I have chronic pain but it does not rule my life by any means. How I manage my pain has completely changed my life but not in a bad way. Of course I want the people closest to me to believe me and they do. My husband met me after I had already been through the Mayo Clinic Pain Rehab Program and knew how to manage my pain naturally so it may be more difficult for him at times to fully grasp what a toll chronic pain has played in my life. But, he can still see when I am having a difficult time and will gently tell me to stop rubbing my face or head as he knows it is something that I work hard not to do because it draws more attention to my pain.
People who are struggling with chronic pain or any invisible illness really need to hear the words: “I believe you.” There is nothing more powerful than that statement to someone who is in the pit falls of chronic pain. You may not have the answers or have any idea how to help the person but make sure they know they are not alone and that you believe them. Just because you cannot see something does not mean it is not there.