Just Because I don’t Look Chronically Ill Doesn’t Mean I’m Not
Many women suffering from chronic pain/illness don’t look ill. Since it is invisible people often assume health and make comments that are discouraging and downright rude. Understanding for lack of participation gets sparse as the illness gets worse or lingers too long. Name-calling (like lazy, hypochondriac, drama-queen, faker, and attention-seeker) adds to the condemnation and discouragement many women with an invisible chronic illness already feels.
“To many we appear to be flaky and/or unreliable when the truth is very different. People don’t understand when you tell them you’re in pain and they can’t see why.” CS
How a woman interacts with her culture, physical environment and background affects how she behaves, experiences and deals with pain. Some of these behaviors include the following:
- Fear of further injury
- Lack of energy/fatigue
- Foggy thinking
- Doing too much or too little
- Staying in bed
- Excessive doctor shopping
- Over medicating
- Talking too much or not at all about pain
- Quick temper
- Trouble asking for and receiving help
- Always thinking about and reacting to pain
- Sleep problems
- Eating problems
- Negative self-talk and thinking
A woman’s theology, emotional make-up, resources, body type and self-concept also affect pain management. For instance unresolved long-term emotional pain can bring on physical symptoms like migraines, asthma and IBS. The converse is also true; long-term physical pain can bring on clinical depression.
“…My neurologist told me that pain and depression share the same nerve pathways in the brain. Some people think you get depressed because you’re in pain. This may be true in some situations, but you can also have depression seemingly for no reason at all (quite frustrating!) because you have pain. When I am going to have a major migraine, I usually become severely depressed 1-3 days before. I think it’s good to be aware of this and to have the people around you know so that they can help you walk through this.” TL
A frustrating aspect of chronic pain is that often there is no diagnosis as to why the body’s pain switch is locked in an on position. Not knowing the why makes it difficult for health care providers to know how to help. This lack of a diagnosis leads many people (professional and lay alike) to discount/minimize the woman’s pain and treat her more like a hypochondriac than a woman with a real problem with pain.
Actually women in pain trend to over-exaggerate their health. Not knowing the why also affects the woman in pain as she tends to ignore her symptoms and do too much. Having a diagnosis gives her “permission” to properly care for herself.
“I am one of those invisible people. I’ve even had doctors tell me it’s all in my head. I’m glad they got a medical degree to figure out my migraines are in my head! “TL.
Do you know a woman with a chronic illness/pain? Maybe you can ask her how she feels today and listen to the answer. Really listen with compassion and believe what she’s telling you.
 This includes participation in activities in all areas of life like home, school, work, community, church, politics, and with friends.