What a High Pain Day Taught Me About Hiding My Illnesses

TW: mentions of covert incest. This first appeared on our Medium publication page in November 2016.

I have always been someone who takes care of others.

It’s something that I have had to do.

Growing up in an abusive home, I had to take care of everyone — more emotionally than physically, but both for sure. I was the emotional partner for my mother, something called Covert Incest.

Because of that, I’ve always been incredibly independent. I have never wanted anyone else to feel like they had to take care of me. That goes double for my marriage, frankly.

Part of it is that I internalized the ableism that goes along with someone marrying a chronically ill/disabled person. I mean, after all, the expectation is that the ‘well’ one has to take care of the ‘sick’ one. Between that and my independence, I have never wanted my partner to feel like he had to take care of me.

He recently had LASIK and then got a cold a few weeks later, so I’ve been used to taking care of him. It wasn’t even a thing that I was worried about. He needed care and I was here. I mean, DUH.

Lately, maybe because of being more of a caregiver, I have been better about sharing and showing how I am doing and, in turn, my partner has been incredibly understanding and helpful.

Sunday morning, I woke up with intense stomach pain at 3 AM. It was clear that I needed to use the bathroom, so I did so. I spent a while in there, crying because the stomach pain was so bad. Frankly, I was wiping as quickly as I could because I was in so much pain that I thought I would puke, too.

It was not a proud moment.

By the time I was done, 20 minutes had elapsed. My stomach was still in an incredible amount of pain, so I went to the couch instead of my bed. I didn’t want to wake T up and, besides, I wasn’t sure sleep would visit me again.

It did, eventually.

When I woke up again, I was sure that I would be in a ton of pain. I wasn’t, which was perplexing, but I wasn’t going to question it, either.

And then, it happened.

A brick wall with an overlay that says ‘fuck this pain’ and a fancy curly doodle underneath

Over the course of a short time — something under five minutes — my pain went from not-an-issue to holy-fucking-shit-why.

Everything got heavy. I was barely able to hold up my phone. My muscles felt like what I assume they would feel like if I was able to run a marathon or do the Ironman.

I couldn’t hide it.

T asked if I was tired and I explained what was going on.

“What can I do? Ice packs? Biofreeze?”

Without hesitation, he jumped in and helped with whatever I thought might be helpful. A few minutes later, he had grabbed the Biofreeze and we slathered my arms. He snagged me an NSAID, too.

I don’t care if I can’t do much with my legs, but being unable to do much with my arms is a problem.

Within probably 30–45 minutes of the onset of the pain, I was asleep.

When I woke up, the initial pain was eased. My muscles were still in an incredible amount of pain, though.

T took me to our bedroom and asked what he could rub to help. He rubbed my hands, my feet, and my knees.

I apologized to him for all of this. I’m so good at stepping in and taking care of him, he said. He figures that I know how to best take care of myself, so it’s not a thing.

“But I’m always here to help when I can.”

In that moment, I realized a lot.

As vulnerable as so many applaud me for being, I still have a long way to go. I’m not nearly as vulnerable as I pretend I am.

I try to not let others see my illness fun firsthand. When I’m feeling bad and T’s at work, I talk on social media but rest. I write about what I’m going through, but in a safe space — at home, usually alone, and usually feeling slightly better than the time period I’m writing about.

This goes double for when I am sick at home. I cancel calls or FaceTime meetings with friends. I hide the extent of my illnesses from everyone — even T.

I have to stop pretending that I’m fighting against my illnesses on my own. The reality is so far from that — I am surrounded my love and support, and nowhere else is that true than at home.

Black and white photo of a bride and groom dancing

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