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Denying My Pain Has Kept Me Small

Updated: Sep 1, 2020

During the month of May I took part in a 4-week TedTalk course to help me start writing and preparing for my TedTalk. The first 3 classes led to us giving a 5 minute presentation of our talk to the class.

After our talks, we gave each other feedback. One viewer made a powerful observation about mine,

“I want to know more about how you were feeling. You use so much descriptive language but none of it tells us how you were actually feeling.”

Oh, shit. She was right. What’s more, I hadn’t even noticed it was missing.

I have a strong tendency to intellectualize my feelings. It’s a survival tactic. My therapist and I talk about it often.

When you deal with chronic illness, and especially with being misdiagnosed or undiagnosed, it’s alienating. It’s frustrating. It’s exhausting. You worry people won’t understand (because most don’t), or worse, that they’ll secretly think you’re making it up or that it must not be “that bad”. You worry they’ll tire of the fact that you’re not better yet and start to distance themselves from you. You worry, period.

In my work around learning to accept the hand I’ve been dealt, I have to make it a point to remind myself to feel my feelings. To honor them. It’s easy to go into survival mode because life is still in session. I still have to get out of bed every day and interact with the world. I have to live. I have to find ways to fulfill my purpose even when I’m feeling run over, we all do. But that’s never going to happen if I deny myself the full range of human emotions that come along with chronic illness.

In all the blogs I’ve written so far, I haven’t talked a lot about how my circumstances have influenced every part of my life for the past 7 years. I didn’t think anyone cared. Stick to the facts -- That’s what I thought would be the most helpful, how dumb, when the people who’ve helped me the most in life never stick to the intellectual facts. Sorry about that, folks. I’ve been failing you on that front.

So, this post is my promise to you that from now on, I’ll be telling it all. There are so many parts of my story I’ve yet to divulge to you and I’m ready to start talking. I had a lot of work to do - a lot of unpacking. I was hiding under layers of armor that my therapist and I have been peeling back for over a year now. I didn’t realize how long I’d been in survival mode and I realize now I couldn’t really talk about all of this the way it needed to be talked about, because looking at it too closely was more than I was ready to face.

I have so much more perspective now on what all those years of denying my pain did to me. How deeply it impacted every part of my life. While I’m still thick in the diagnosis process (more on that later), I’m more confident and capable than ever before in my ability to advocate for myself, and I owe that to all the years I spent doing and being the exact opposite.

In Glennon Doyle’s new book, Untamed, she writes in the prologue about a captive cheetah named Tabitha. She writes about how Tabitha knows she’s not meant for this caged existence but it’s all she knows, and it makes her feel crazy. But she’s not crazy, she’s a goddamn cheetah. Being ready to step up and start telling my whole story is my way of uncaging myself. Because just like Tabitha… I am a goddamn cheetah.

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