If you battle with chronic illness and pain, you’ve likely heard the 5 awful words. You know, the words that make up one of the worst statements you could say to someone with chronic illness and pain. Know what I’m talking about? Yep, you guessed it, “it’s all in your head”. These simple 5 words can ruin friendships, professional relationships, and possibly cost a person their life. Concerning right? Well, hopefully you will share this post and spread the word about the REAL damage from this sentence and encourage people to STOP SAYING THIS CRAP!
For days I thought long and hard about whether I should type this post. This subject is QUITE personal to me…and a sensitive topic. This is something I feel very strongly about, and seems to be something I constantly confront. Which brings me to why I chose to write about this subject, despite my reservations. A few days ago it became clear that this post contains a message that someone, even if it is only one person, needs to hear. Someone keeps going through this and is ready to give up or stop speaking up. So, this is for you…only you.
As I’ve previously shared, I have battled with chronic illness and pain since I was 7 years old but did not receive my first diagnosis until 2011. Yes, that is a LONG time to be undiagnosed. It is also a long period of time to be called crazy, an attention seeker, an exaggerator, and my personal favorite, a faker. But, that is exactly what happened. I can hear your resounding gasp as I type these words…but friends what you just read is sadly true. Now, don’t get all upset and start firing off angry emails. I am happy to report that NONE of those words accurately describe me. I am quite sane, actually loathe attention (my therapist would agree), I speak the truth often times to my detriment and do it so candidly that people usually think I’m joking or exaggerating, and refuse to fake anything…not even an orgasm. You’re welcome!
Growing up I was under the assumption (yes I know what they say about assumptions) that the medical field was full of inquisitive minds. These inquisitive minds, I thought, were comfortable being in unchartered territory, operating in the grey, exploring, pushing the limits, and seeking information if you will. Am I the only one that thought this? To me, the field of medicine wouldn’t make any sense if that was not the case…there goes that logical type A person raising her hand again. But seriously, how would anything ever be cured or treated if my assumption was incorrect? Logic suggests that almost every illness started out as symptoms without a known cause, that happened to fall into the hands of an inquisitive doctor, researcher, scientist or etc that refused to stop searching for a reason for the symptoms. So, assuming I’m right, which I am comfortable doing because I tend to think highly of myself most days, why has that changed?
Generally speaking, when modern medicine cannot explain a person’s symptoms, the person is immediately deemed mentally ill or faking. We’ve all seen this play out in some form. Maybe you have experienced it personally or watched a loved one deal with this. Usually the person is not explicitly told “you are mentally ill”; but they are given “helpful advice” from “helpful” people. Gotta say, I LOVE (insert sarcasm that chokes me) “helpful advice” and “helpful” people. You know what I’m talking about, right? When a doctor is unable to find a medical reason for a patient’s symptoms, the patient may be told “I think the symptoms are all in your head”, “you should speak with a trained clinical professional about reducing your stress”, or “your symptoms are the result of stress”, or, my personal favorite, “all the tests show you are fine, so there is no way you could be experiencing what you are saying.”
As I sat in my dark bedroom unable to sleep last night, two thoughts kept running through my mind. For 45 minutes, I tried to sleep…but two thoughts demanded to be addressed. In my mind, I repeatedly heard my voice ask “do we have any bacon” and “how bad would it really be if this really was all in your your mind”? Sounds insane, right? But, I really wanted bacon….
Ok seriously, all jokes aside, think about my second thought…I did. How bad would it be if every ache and pain I experience was really all in my head and not the result of an actual illness that requires treatment and medication. See, if everyone that has ever suggested that my symptoms were in my head was actually right, that would LITERALLY make my day. That would mean a BIG lifestyle change for me. I could reduce my 26 medications down to about 1 or 2. I could trade chemo meds for Zoloft or some other medicine. Now, so I don’t lose people because where this is going is important, I want to clarify something. I am in NO WAY suggesting that being mentally ill is somehow better than being physically ill…I have no interest in a game of “who has it worse”. LIFE WITH EITHER SUCKS!!! NO ONE has EVER said “I have schizophrenia, but thank God it’s not Crohn’s”…or vice versa!!! I am simply spinning out the scenario to show the ridiculousness of it, and yes that is totally a word. Simply put, life without my illnesses could mean some pretty sweet changes…or tragic changes.
Friends, my dear friends, if the idiot that gave me the “helpful advice” was wrong…I’m dead. Yeah, you read that correctly. If I stopped taking all my medicines, stepped up my meditation/counseling, added some anxiety or depression medication, I would be dead 2 years TOPS…and 2 years is being generous. I can’t decide which illness would take me out first…but the choices of stroke, heart attack, bowl obstruction or proforation, or similar is too horrible to think about…so I won’t. But, I use myself as an example to show that when people are handing out this “helpful advice”, they could hand out a death sentence. Hopefully together we can make this concept so “in your face” that something starts to change.
I am learning that people nowadays only speak “life or death”. So, if you are a person that likes to be “helpful”, realize that the person you’re talking to life depends on what you say. BUT, act as if YOUR own life depends on it. Yep, act as if your life depends on the “helpful advice” you give. I am not a gambler but I am willing to bet a million dollars that if all the so called “helpful” person knew that whatever happened to a person after following their “helpful advice” would also happen to them, they would be a lot less reckless with their speech.
Listen friends, if you are as unfortunate as I am and tend to receive “helpful advice”, simply ask the “helpful” person, “are you willing to bet your life on this advice”? Just say it with no emotion and see what they say. I guarantee it will be blog worth. If, however, you tend to be the “helpful” person giving out this “helpful advice”, before you open your trap door disguised as a mouth, ask yourself “am I willing to bet my life on this advice”? If the answer is no, in either scenario, instruct the “helpful” person, or all you “helpful” people instruct yourselves to STFU IMMEDIATELY! That is texting language so I don’t lose my religion…but GOOGLE IT!