"When I asked you how you were feeling, you said it was a high-pain day. But you looked to be having such a great time — talking, laughing, mingling with the group. So it just doesn't add up."
I couldn't believe a friend — one of the few I'd candidly opened up to about my chronic health issues at that point — had written this to me. And had already spoken to other mutual friends about me. Out of "concern," of course.
She was calling my integrity into account. For my health issues to be as severe as they are, she decided I should always be forlorn. Quiet. Listless.
And all at once, my back was up against the wall, with me defending what shouldn't need to be defended.
"I can push past it when I need to, for limited amounts of time..."
"A smile on my face doesn't mean I'm being dishonest about how I'm feeling..."
"There are plenty of days when my health determines my plans..."
"When you feel something constantly, it's not what comes to mind when asked how you're doing..."
"I can feel awful, and still have a good time..."
I immediately hated myself for scrambling to explain, for working so hard to make her understand.
Sadly, she wasn't the first to respond so hurtfully about my health issues.
And she wasn't the last.
I've been treated as though I'm crazy, or, at the very least, exaggerating wildly.
I've been called a liar.
I've been told to stop being so dramatic.
I've been scolded for not having enough faith.
I've been preached at, talked down to, pitied.
Enduring chronic anything—all day, every day, in varying degrees—is crazy-making, lonesome, and challenging all on its own. Skeptical tones, judgmental eyes, critical words—all they do is make me regret opening my mouth.
And they heap more isolation onto an already lonely road...
I still feel tremendously uncomfortable talking about my chronic pain and health conditions—though I try to force myself to open up about them more than I used to.
My breath quickens as I struggle to find words for what seems indescribable and yet is, at the same time, my "normal". With each syllable, I grow increasingly anxious that I am being judged. Criticized. Unheard. Misunderstood.
And being misunderstood is just about the worst feeling in the world—and one of my greatest fears.
I can't help but think of Saint Francis of Assisi's poignant prayer—
"O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek...
to be understood as to understand..."
So on this high-pain day, I am going to swap my fear of being misunderstood for a fear of misunderstanding those I love. I'm going to be more intentional to put aside my own experiences and opinions so that I can truly listen and open my heart to understand even that which is unfathomable to me.
Because though our pain looks different — physically, emotionally — at the core, it is all the same.
And that I can understand.