I have spent the majority of my time on this blog writing about trauma, PTSD, and the invisible wounds of psychological and emotional injuries that no one really understands. The more I walk through this life and experience all the pain, suffering, chaos, trauma, and “junk” that is thrown at us, I realize that invisible wounds are so much more than trauma and PTSD. There are so many things that people experience every single day, every hour of every day that no one can see and most people do not understand. There are many different illnesses, struggles, thoughts, and emotional states that people either cannot or do not wear on their sleeves for others to see. These different areas of suffering are no less severe and debilitating than it is for someone who has lost a body part or suffered other obvious physical ailments through their own choice to fight for our country, for example, or through the result of others actions. So why do people act as if those suffering from invisible pain and invisible ailments are somehow faking it, or somehow in less physical and emotional pain than someone whose wounds and illnesses you can see? This is the greatest disservice to each other that we perpetrate or is perpetrated against us every day.
You see, I am one of those people who suffers from indescribable physical and emotional pain every single day, but you would never know that unless I allowed myself to be vulnerable in front of you and told you what I was experiencing. Unless I felt safe enough to let you in or have some other reason to let you know the truth, you cannot tell by looking at me that there is anything wrong. For the last 20 years at least I have suffered from Fibromyalgia. A severe and debilitating constellation of symptoms that causes significant physical pain, exhaustion beyond words that does not respond to getting a good nights sleep, mental fog, concentration problems, memory problems, and a general feeling of “why is my body letting me down?” Unless you happen to see my legs give out from the excruciating pain, see me catch my breath from the simple act of moving, or experience my inability and struggle with organizing my thoughts and remembering what I am supposed to be doing at any given time, I look and act “normal.” Because you see, those of us that suffer this way have learned how not to act in front of people, we’ve learned to plaster on a smile and pretend that we’re ok. We’ve learned that it is usually not safe to share our pain with others because they cannot or will not try to understand. We’ve learned to hide our pain at all cost because for the majority of our time, we’ve been told by “professionals” that the symptoms aren’t real, the pain isn’t real, and that there must be something wrong with us. We’ve been diagnosed with a multitude of psychiatric words and accused of malingering for attention or to get out of doing something. You see, we have learned that no one will believe us anyway.
Then there are the mental illnesses that no one can see until the sufferer “acts out” in a way that expresses their deep sorrow and suffering such as self-harming and suicide attempts. Illnesses such as depression, PTSD, and anxiety. Illnesses that nearly the entire adult population in the United States currently has or has had at least once in their lifetime. Illnesses that are so widespread and debilitating, you would think that society would be desperately trying to understand, accommodate and help those who are suffering. However, the opposite it true, society has pushed them aside and distanced themselves because of irrational beliefs and unfounded fears. See the media blames PTSD, depression, loneliness, bullying, and anything else they can, for horrifically unspeakable acts committed by evil people. People whose only real mental illness is that they have no conscience and do not care about anyone else. These people aren’t suffering from true mental illness, but the media and everyone else in society are quick to label them depressed, lonely, or my favorite, bullied. But the truth is, people who suffer from these hidden disorders, likely do not have the energy or the desire to put in the effort to carry out the plans that the evil among us relish in. But for that reason, those who suffer must do so in silence, because the fear of irrational responses and consequences is to real.
The reality is that there are people in your life, your close friends, and your family who are suffering indescribable pain and anguish and you will never see it. Your responsibility is to be a safe place, a person that they can trust enough to share their pain and suffering. If they ever do reach out to you, to open up and make themselves vulnerable, learn how to trust what they are telling you and be kind, compassionate, and patient. These people can’t just “get over it.” They can’t just “exercise” or “pray” away the pain. If you truly love and care about the people in your life, begin to ask questions, be open for them to come to you and above all else, be safe. Don’t accuse them of being lazy, don’t be angry and frustrated with them because they couldn’t get out of bed, or do the dishes, or make dinner, or take out the trash, or rake the leaves, etc. “again.” Don’t be that person who pushes them further into themselves in order to escape the additional pain you are causing. Because the truth is that even though we have learned to cope, to survive, to hide the pain and to take care of ourselves, we all need someone who loves us enough to take care of us even when we can’t express what we need. We need someone who is patient, selfless, compassionate, and who is willing to sacrifice in order to help us get back up another day. If you truly want to help those around you, those who are suffering be the person they can lean on, be the light in their darkness and shine through their pain and suffering to offer a glimpse of hope.