Eccedentesiast: (n) Someone who hides pain behind a smile
Underneath this word in the dictionary should be pictures of the countless people suffering from an invisible illness, hiding it behind their forced smiles and rigid teeth. Having too much time to think the other morning, I began going back in time to when my self-esteem fell apart and I started caring what other’s thought of me. I had to go way back, all the way to elementary school before I fell off of my bike and before I entered the public school system. I have many amazing memories from elementary school and truly loved learning and reading and being in plays as often as possible. I think back to sleepovers and events like picture day and I did care a great deal what I looked like and if I had ‘cool’ clothes and whether or not the two girls I looked up to the most in my class liked me. I cannot believe at such a young age I worried about such ridiculous things. My elementary school was a private school and went to the sixth grade: I started caring more what I looked like, liking boys, and I was very nervous to start a new school the following year with over a hundred new people whom already knew one another. I was petrified even before my bike accident: the accident that would steal a lot more from me than my Winnie Cooper long brown hair. I never worried about feeling smart as a child. I got great grades and truly loved reading and writing. Writing was my favorite subject and I was probably that annoying girl in the first row who had to have their hand up first to answer the teacher’s question. I truly loved school and learning. I loved projects and creating things and performing in any play I could. I never questioned my intelligence or my abilities regarding my authenticity and the subjects that I not only loved but was I excelled at. I was definitely nervous to go to a new school but I knew one person from the town I was going into and she was my best friend. We did plays together and she remains my best friend to this day. I was scared but I thought I would make it just fine. And then I fell……
Three months before starting my first year in a middle school where I knew not one person and had no idea how to open a locker or who to sit with at lunch, I fell off of my bike and ended up having brain surgery and other injuries that would change my life forever. I was lucky to be alive but for many years following my accident, I had moments where I wished the accident had killed me as life was just too painful to bear. I was not the Jessica I was before my accident: not physically, emotionally, or cognitively. I was a fourteen year old girl with half a shaved head, covered in bruises and breaks, scared to death of everything and living a life of both physical and emotional pain. The emotional pain was far worse: it still is. My friends and I always look back to one class that left me scared of Geography for life. We now look back and laugh but at the time it was beyond upsetting. I was asked to come to the front of the class and find a specific state or river, I forget but either way I could not find the damn spot on the map the teacher insisted I find. I started sweating, tears began welling up in my eyes, and finally after saying for the fifth time: ‘I cannot find it!’ ran out of the classroom and into the nearest girls room to cry. I would spend the rest of this school year crying, eating lunch, and doodling in this same bathroom. I think my self esteem hit a zero during this important year in my life. I felt ugly, stupid, worthless, and missed the Jessica that I knew I had probably lost once my head went into that stone wall the day of my accident. I still tried to do well in school and yes hid my tears behind a fake smile but I was miserable. I couldn’t imagine getting less than a B on a paper or test so I worked hard but when words came out of my mouth amongst peers I could never find the right answer. I lived in a constant state of physical pain, emotional pain, fear, and loneliness.
Things would get a tad better and then worse and then better and then much worse and the cycle of grief just continued and continued for more years than I can count until the screams inside me could no longer be kept silent. Instead of using my voice I used my credit card, everything left on it and flew to Colorado in hopes to escape any sense of pain: physical and emotional. I was DONE! I was lost, in pain, and not happy with myself or my life at all. I was spiraling out of control and could not face one more doctor or prescription or procedure to rid me of chronic pain. I thought to myself: “I will drink, party with everyone here, and just not have to be sober. This is the greatest party town in the world. Who will know the difference!” This particular lifestyle did not work out for as long as I thought it would have. I just began hating myself and my life more and if it had not been for a good friend finding the Pain Rehab Center in Rochester MN, I probably would not be here today. It took acceptance of chronic pain and learning many ways to manage it naturally to get me out of my horrible place of self hatred and years to get back my self esteem and self worth, but it happened over time. I had to re-learn what made me happy before my bike accident: reading, writing, being silly, helping others, laughing, movies, and family. I learned things I never knew I could love such as: exercise, yoga, meditation, and reading books I never even thought about such as The Law of Attraction. I still get made fun of a lot as I am not always book smart and enjoy being silly and fun as opposed to serious and on a pursuit to learn about our country and the world. I always wanted to be one of those people who read the paper each day and knew all world events: the idea of being this person is great but it is just not who Jessica is. I want to be myself and do the things that make my soul happy and keep me from having to hide behind a smile. I work very hard to not think about pain and try and keep myself distracted when physical pain enters my mind or worries try and trap me in bed. I need to do what makes my soul happy and continue to do what I know is right for myself and my family. My self esteem has it’s ups and downs but on a whole it is a ton better than it was for twenty plus years. I learned that it doesn’t matter what others think of me, it really only boils down to how I think of myself. I love writing and think I am pretty good at it. I love being a mother and homemaker and think I am pretty good at it. I beat to my own drum and many do not understand me but that is okay. I do not really smile behind pain as much as I used to do. For years any smile I had was fake: hidden behind tears and fear and pain. I still throw on a smile once and a while when all I want to do is cry but these times are very far and few between.
Try and be yourself. More people know what you are going through than you think. Even if a person does not have chronic pain, like you and I people do know pain: emotional and physical. No one has a perfect life. No one would believe I cry behind my smile or believe half the battles I have been though. No one is alone.