One thing that can be really hard to communicate to people that don’t have chronic pain is that it’s not just about hurting all the time, it’s about the pain taking up so much of your being, so much of your energy, and so much of yourself that you just don’t have enough to deal with other things. Stuff like anger, stuff like weight gain, stuff like frustration, stuff like anxiety– it’s all tied in together. It’s so, so much easier to keep your temper, or to keep from complaining about something, when you don’t have 90% of your self tied up in just being there and being out in public and interacting with people like a normal human being for a little while. It’s so much easier to eat healthy food when you’re physically able to stand at a stove to cook without it causing you worse pain, when you can walk around the grocery store and choose what food looks good. Because guess what: as much as we like to Protestant-work-ethic our way into “all you need is to work hard and believe in yourself,” it’s just not true. There’s only so much a person has to give; there’s only so much energy and self that a person can bring to a day. Can you rally and push through? Of course, but can you do that every day? No, absolutely not, and it shouldn’t be something that you try to expect of yourself.
Pain, Pressure, and Pizza
So when, again, 90% of yourself is dedicated to just getting through the day and doing the things that you need to do, it’s so much harder to bite your tongue, or swallow a criticism, or to say, “I’m gonna force myself to eat a salad even though I hate salads” than to just say “fuck it I’m gonna order a pizza because my life is miserable right now. I know it is not good for me but damn that moment when I first bite into it sure is amazing no matter if I’m hurting or not.” And sometimes that’s all there is in a day, when you’re hurting so bad you can’t even sit up to watch TV, when it’s just a haze of pain flowing through the days and weeks like molasses. Sometimes that ten minutes of pizza is the best moment you’ll have in the day. Few people deal with days that shitty on a regular basis. They don’t get what our lives are like.
Weight as a function of pain
When my pain and depression and anxiety were at their worst, I gained weight. When I finally found treatments and medication that helped enormously, suddenly I had more energy to spend on exercise, cooking, and trying to change habits in the long term. And I did! I’ve lost a lot of weight! It absolutely wasn’t easy, and certainly involved willpower and tough choices, but at the same time, it’s SO much more doable than it would have been when I was at my worst. People without disabilities have a hard time with weight loss, even with the full spectrum of exercise at their disposal. Take those options away, and obviously, you’re going to have a harder time. Adding a chronic condition on top of the normal weight loss struggle completely changes the equation. (And that’s true about things other than weight: take anything already difficult and combine it with chronic pain and it’s more than the sum of the two, it’s more like chronic pain acts as a multiplier. Weight loss squared. Temper keeping to the third power. …OK maybe not but you get the point. ) Forcing yourself to exercise is one thing, forcing yourself to exercise when you know it’s going to make you hurt more in the short term is entirely another.
It can feel like drowning to think of all the things you know you should do, and it’s even worse when you are dealing with other stuff like depression, anxiety, and ADHD on top of your pain (like somebody I know whose name is Janet). There is a path through the worst of it, but it’s a path that those cruel fat-phobic people have never even thought about, much less had to walk. People like that fundamentally do not understand what it’s like to be you or me. They don’t know what it’s like to trudge through a fog of pain, where every single thing you do requires effort, energy, exertion, and expenditure of pain from your finite supply.
Pain, Weight, Jagoffs, and Finding Support
“Weight and chronic pain” or just “weight and health and the medical establishment” is a huge issue that I’ll write a larger piece on someday– there is an enormous amount of prejudice and misinformation out there about weight and health. But until then:
Please don’t let ignorant assholes make you feel bad about your weight or appearance. Hating on fat people is one of the few semi-“acceptable” hates left out there, and some shitty people latch onto it. It can be incredibly hard to read some dude on Reddit screaming about CICO (calories in, calories out) and how you just need to get your ass off the couch. But it’s important to remember that most people in the world are not like that. There are people who understand. There are people who don’t understand, but who are kind and who will listen and learn with empathy. You have to surround yourself with those people and treasure them when you do find them. In some ways, that’s just part of being an adult, but it’s so much more important for someone with a chronic condition that can frustrate efforts to get out or make new friends. I would have never gotten through the last few years without the help and support of close friends who just happen to live all over the globe. When the world around you sucks, create your own world.