Many of us are aware of the U.S. Marine Corps tagline, “Pain is just weakness leaving the body.” There’s also a similar, often-referenced quote by Lance Armstrong:
Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.
By these definitions, my body is a tomb of never-ending weakness and I’m in a perpetual state of temporary pain (and in my case it doesn’t matter if I keep fighting or quit, the pain is still right here with me). Don’t believe everything you think, it was created by someone else’s perspective first.
When people freak out about bruises or scrapes on my body I have never understood the reason. What’s the big deal? Only in these aesthetic instances can I spout the “pain is temporary” mantra and people will understand that I’m just good at sucking it up, so to speak, and they leave it at that. Most people do not understand that there is deeper, unseen pain that can last forever in our temporary bodies.
Recently I realized I haven’t understood why visible surface injuries can be fussed over so much because I live with constant, chronic, incurable pain. Pain is my fishbowl. I’m swimming – or sinking – in my sweet, deep, closed and visible (yet invisible) pool. Or you could call it a snowglobe. So a visible bruise is not a big deal – to me. It’s just something on my body that is temporary and it’s also something I’m positive will go away. It will heal. So I needn’t pay any attention to it since it’ll fix itself in time.
It is the rest of me – the bruised, scraped, scarred, inflammed, broken parts inside – that I wish people would freak out about.
“Oh my gosh Charis, your vertebrae just got stuck to a bone spur, I watched it right there on your x-ray! Omg, how ugly, are you ok? How did that happen? I’m so sorry! That looks like it hurts a lot! I don’t know how anyone could possibly endure what your body looks like.”
Instead it’s, “Charis, how did you get that bruise on your elbow/knee/side?” “What bruise? Oh, that, yeah, I didn’t even know it was there. Hmmph, who knows.” “But doesn’t it hurt? I mean, look at my bruise here on my arm, I got it doing xyz and it hurts like hell.”
People can only talk about and almost fully understand what they can relate to. If we could wear our pain on the outside we’d certainly get more attention, support, and care than we could ever imagine. We’d believe our diseases were understood by people who aren’t chronically, incurable, invisibly ill. People would be able to compare our physical pain to their own because seeing is believing. Should we have to walk around with portable x-ray machines showing the white, scarred inflammation and fused bone spurs on our hips and spines for people to see our pain? Should we have to wear a colostomy bag around our neck to show the constriction our diseases cause? Should we have to show a diagram of our brain on our t-shirt to prove we’re mentally ill? Should we have to walk with our canes in the airport even on the days we don’t necessarily need one just so we can board the plane first for that aisle seat because we’re tired of people giving us judgmental looks or even telling us, “You’re too young to be disabled” or asking “Do you need this pre-board pass on the basis of disability? We only give these to people who are disabled” when they didn’t question the person before us who is 30 years our senior but who doesn’t have a visible assistive device?
If you were to see my internal pain on the outside I would be purple, red, black, and blue in every place a joint exists. I would have protrusions of inflammed, red, scarred joint-on-bone poking eyes out. Spurts of fire would escape my spine like a carnival ride, causing your brows to singe and your palms to sweat. If my pain was on the outside for all to see I would make money at the circus or the fair as the main attraction – I’d lead the freak show. And I’d be able to afford my rent.
Trust me, I’m not discounting bruises and scrapes; they can be extremely nasty and last a long time, but they DO eventually heal with rest and care and proper treatment. Ankylosing Spondylitis doesn’t. Multiple Sclerosis doesn’t. ALS doesn’t. Fibromyalgia doesn’t. Schizophrenia doesn’t. Cystic Fibrosis doesn’t. There are too many to name.
I understand that the idea that my beautiful body has so much terror and brokenness inside is difficult to comprehend on any level. If I can’t even fully understand why my body has forsaken me as well as what’s going on inside me as inflammation silently, fiercely, suffocates me, then how can anyone else?
Listen to our pain, it’s the only way you can see it.