I don’t talk much about hurting myself by “walking too fast” or “picking up a pencil the wrong way” because that’s my baseline, just as it’s my normal for unstructured social interaction to be a risky gamble. I might pay for attending a party with hours to days of shaky mental exhaustion or emotional swan dives, I might sprain my wrists stirring a pot of soup, but there’s nothing unusual about either event. I don’t think twice about them. I don’t talk much about breathing or digesting either. Such things are not noteworthy.
The work I put into life doesn’t feel remarkable either. I like being active. I like people. I like to push myself. Those traits plus a damfine big box of coping mechanisms obscure how unusual my routines are. Lots of people are introverted, so I don’t dwell on the enjoyments I ration because I don’t have emotional resilience to spare. Athletes equip themselves to avoid injuries, and daily life is a contact sport for me, so what’s the difference? Exercise is healthy. No big deal that I must do strength exercises and walk minimum 3 miles daily or pay for the deficit in cramps and impinged nerves.
So there are positive reasons I don’t talk about my assorted issues. I seriously don’t notice them unless someone compares my life to norms. (One particularly memorable adolescent conversation involved my disbelief in days without pain. “Like, not any pain?” I asked, wondering if I was being pranked.) The last reason I keep this stuff to myself isn’t so good. Shame and fear of judgment.
I work hard to walk in the wide world of normal. That shouldn’t mean forfeiting my right to say I’m only faking normal, but somehow it does. I can look like a duck and quack like one, so I am left feeling like a cheater for not being duckish. I am functional, more or less, as long as I do certain things. So if I’m not better I’m not working hard enough. right? It’s my own fault. If I had a better attitude and put in more effort, I would be fine.
I know that’s an insidious lie, but it’s the kind that slips past defenses and eats away confidence like acid on a wooden building foundation. And here’s the kicker: buying into the lie leads to guilt. Wimp. Whiner. Quit-exaggerating-you-lying-attention-whore is the internal whisper I hear when I admit to injury or weakness. Always.
It would help if I had an official seal of medical diagnosis, but I don’t. I have plenty of treatment documentation, but there’s a chasm between fitting a condition profile and the legitimizing stamp of a doctor’s note. I have never leaped that gap. My physical condition was diagnosed off-hand by a college health clinic resident in the era before electronic records, and the mental stuff? Well. Let’s just say the cause & effect patterns are obvious but have never been severe enough to make me seek treatment.
Why not? The affirmation would be nice, I admit. It’s my lazy streak at work. The official process for pinning causes to intermittent symptoms is frustrating and exhausting even with supportive doctors. And support is mighty hard to find. So that’s two strikes against putting myself through the wringer. The third strike? There are no cures for what ails me. There are specific management therapies and behaviors, but I already employ them all. Medication? The very idea of testing brands and dosages is too daunting to contemplate. Things will have to get much worse before I’m willing to play that horrible whack-a-mole game.
Someday I’ll be forced to it. Right now I manage well enough, but my body ages and my brain will always find ways to surprise me. (First time I faced a social situation unarmored by a job title? Oh, hey, that’s what a panic attack feels like! Fun times! Not.)
As it stands now, with no pill bottles or certification to wield, I never truly believe anyone else believes me when I claim injury or weakness. Why should they believe in the rotted core when the disguise is effective? Hell, I have trouble accepting it, and I live it.
The best I can do is lay out information up-front, then let it drop. Full disclosure doesn’t stamp out my internal critic, but it does cut down on vocal judgments like, “It must be so nice to be able to eat anything you want and stay skinny,” “Just go to the party for a little while, what can it hurt?” or “But you look perfectly fine.” (That’s my favorite: when people tell me to my face that I’m not unhealthy enough to satisfy them.)
I know I’m being silently judged even when people don’t say thoughtless, vicious things. But when I lay the groundwork early I don’t have to hear it as often.
So when you notice I sprained my finger, and I say I did it tying my shoe? When I’m incapacitated by a headache before a big to-do? Go ahead and laugh. I do. Sympathy is okay too. But please don’t say it’s unbelievable.
Because it’s my reality. I just don’t talk much about it.
This article by someone with much worse problems than mine expresses all these feels better than I ever could. I’ll wrap with that.