I’d like to spend a little time talking about pain. It’s important to note that when I say “pain” here, I mean physical pain. I’m not referring to emotional pain or any other kind of struggle one might be dealing with that they may or may not discuss. Though of course, mental health and physical health are intricately intertwined, but maybe I’ll tackle that topic at another time.
I hardly ever complain about pain. Like ever. That may be because I’ve been a medical object my entire life, and I was pretty much raised around pain and things that might be associated with it: hospitals, injections, blood draws, doctors visits, and surgery. The surgeries were only a small part of my childhood, but it’s a part that I remember and think about often.
I had my first surgery in July of 1999 when I was five years old. The operation left me in a cast from the waist down. I was completely immobile for a little while, as seen in the photo above. I’ve got several photographs from back then, but this is the first time I’m attaching one to a blog post, and thus publishing it to the internet. It’s definitely a risky thing to do. The picture is deeply personal and makes me feel extremely vulnerable, but I think it’s one of the only photographs that can enrich what I’m trying to say.
Because I was so used to being in pain–at low, medium, or high levels–I developed a very high pain threshold at a young age. That means if I fell off my bike at the park, I got right back up again, even if I scraped my elbow badly on the ground and began to bleed. If I fell playing at home with my big brother, I got up again. I’m not saying I was invincible from things like that. I’m simply saying I developed a protective mechanism. If I fell I would say I was “fine,” even if I may not have been. I was tough, I guess. But I didn’t want to be tough, I needed to be.
I will admit however that sometimes the need to be tough clouded my good judgement. If I was in pain and needed to speak up, at times I didn’t, and I got in trouble with those who were looking out for me. Again, I had to be tough. It wasn’t enough to just survive with cerebral palsy. I wanted to live.
I owe this attitude to my mother, who not only raised me with love and compassion at the most difficult of times, but also showed me the power of unwavering tenacity and grit and strength.
I’m not encouraging anyone to just grit their teeth and soldier on if you’re physically hurting. If you’re in pain, say so. Even if you need to scream and cry, do so. It doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t mean you’re not tough. In fact, I think displaying weakness is a sign of true strength.
I’m not invincible now, and I wasn’t invincible back then. The recovery after that surgery hurt like hell, but at least I was able to smile some, with my mom by my side.