My ankle has been hurting for about five months. Five months of a crappy sprain with torn ligaments, scarring and lack of sufficient rest that has plagued me with chronic pain.
It’s also been five months of physical therapy, five months of not wearing any cute heels, of wearing ankle braces, of telling my kids that I can’t go ice skating or that my ankle hurts, and five months of frustration.
Thankfully, five months later, it’s also starting to heal. I am working with an excellent new physical therapist and have been feeling the positive impact.
What I’ve discovered through a relatively minor — albeit inconvenient — injury: thanks to my ankle brace, my pain is evident.
And so is the correlating response, of sympathy and kindness.
CHRONIC PAIN: THE PAIN WE CANNOT SEE
Yet each day so many of us are dealing with chronic pain none of us can see.
I have over-active nerves that cause a tingling feeling in my feet and legs, and burning in my back. I take daily medication to ease the symptoms, medication that’s necessary but also has potential side effects that include depression, memory loss and weight gain.
Many of you also know that as a result of my transverse myelitis diagnosis (where in 2009 I was suddenly and temporarily paralyzed), I have permanent bladder damage. You cannot see it, but my bladder spasms in a way that would make my bladder empty immediately if not for approximately 30 Botox injections shot directly into my bladder every few months.
Even with this procedure, I have accidents that are as mentally heartbreaking as they are physically frustrating.
I’m constantly looking for a bathroom whether I have to go, or incase the urge suddenly comes. I have had to ask groups of frustrated women waiting in one of those long bathroom lines if I can skip ahead because when I say I can’t wait, I mean it more than most.
My neurological condition is one in a million, and my bladder condition is more severe than many, particularly in my age category (just check out my urologist’s office for proof!).
I should say most days I feel fine — in fact, I rarely dwell or think much about it (promise you I’m good, mom!), however people rarely know my quiet chronic pain or discomfort and nagging thoughts fixated on bathrooms and medications.
The thing is, so many of us have hidden chronic pain. Cancers, migraines, Crohns, Lupus, diabetes, the list goes on and on.
When I wear the ankle brace, just like when a woman is pregnant, for example, you for sure get extra sympathy.
I always joke that I had the most amazing pregnancy and the day before I delivered I walked into Publix where strangers were helping me reach items off the shelves and held doors open. A week later after Sarah was born I went in for something — in so much pain all over, though mostly down there — and no one noticed me or offered to help. Thanks, folks.
It’s interesting that we often only step up when we see the physical pain, perhaps because it’s the obvious pain and the one easiest for us to connect with. We feel like we can “fix” the issue or ease their discomfort after seeing their tangible challenge.
Perhaps though its not that simple.
Perhaps we have moments through each of our days where we can rise up just a little bit more, where we can act with a little more kindness and a little less judgement about the person across from us.
One of the greatest lessons this chronic pain diagnosis has provided me is the daily reminder that each of us have an untold story we walk with each day. It’s the invisible stuff — health related or otherwise — we deal with each day that can most impact how we act toward others, and how we present ourselves to the world.
I could absolutely choose to lead with an attitude reflective of some of my struggles. Some of you might think I’m validated in that perspective. But I’ve realized, what good would that serve me, and those around me? It wouldn’t. So I choose otherwise.
I choose to lead with joy, with a smile, with appreciation and with determination.
Remember that each day, while the pain might be on display or a chronic pain we cannot see, each day you choose.