As I wrote yesterday’s post, about the fact that health is not a virtue, I realized that I am pretty fired up about the stigma and shaming that many of my clients (and so many of the folks that I have met in various health communities) are facing. It is a real, daily, painful struggle. And this shaming of our experiences means that we are not honest with ourselves.
I have lost count of the number of times that I have had someone tell me that they truly believe their illness–or their pain, or their anxiety–is a result of their own personal weakness. Worse than that, we have received this message–that our pain is weakness–from people who we should be able to trust for support. We’ve heard it from health care providers. We’ve heard it from family members. We’ve heard it from friends or supervisors. And maybe most painfully, we have heard it from ourselves.
I’m guessing you have been in this struggle too. Maybe you aren’t facing depression, or heart disease. Maybe you aren’t dealing with diabetes or anxiety. Maybe you are one of the lucky ones whose physical and mental health are pretty solid. Even if you are, I think you can relate. Think about the last time you were sick–the flu, a nasty cold, a seasonal bug. Did you really let yourself get the full amount of rest and recovery that you needed? Did you head to bed and stay there until your body was on the way to health again? Or did you push yourself–back to work, to household chores, to family responsibilities? If you did push yourself (which is the most common answer), take a moment to ask yourself why that is. For some of us, the answer is that we have limited sick time, or limited support–and we feel that other responsibilities beat our own recovery. For others, it is that we want to “tough it out.” We want to prove that we can be tougher than the germs.
And I think that we want to be tougher than the germs because we believe that we will be judged for taking the time to recover properly. We have drunk the Kool-Aid, and we believe on some level that health is a virtue–even though it is not. But if we follow that logic, and health is a virtue, than our illness, whether it’s a summer cold or cancer, must be blameworthy.
So imagine the relentless silencing that folks with chronic illness face. The pressure to “show healthy” is intense. Maybe we need to think about the possibility that the shaming and blame stories about our pain are contributing to our pain. Maybe it is time to break the silence. Maybe, if pain or depression or fatigue prevent us from participating in our daily life, we can practice saying that–to ourselves at first, and then to others.
I invite you to start by sharing your pain story with me here in the comments. Please let me know if you need additional support.