I have Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis.
I am severely anemic.
I am broken.
And yeah, maybe I shouldn’t think that way about myself but it has taken me 10 long years to be able to say those words aloud to myself and I have fought to proclaim those three words. I believe I have earned the right to speak about my pain. I wish I could be optimistic all the time and actually believe the things that I and others tell me when we say:
“It’ll get easier”.
“It won’t always be this way”.
“Just hang in there!”
I am broken. I have an incurable disease ravaging my body and it has only gotten worse since I have started college and on Monday, I could barely get out of bed and almost passed out just going up a flight of stairs.
A couple of days ago, my boyfriend broke up with me and as much as that hurts, it in no way compares to the pain and turmoil I have felt in not only these past two months but these past 10 years. And it wasn’t until I started talking about all of this with my…I guess as of now ex-boyfriend, that I realized I had been trying to live as though my arthritis wasn’t a problem and I have spent most of my life trying to minimize that pain because I didn’t want my parents and friends to worry.
But now, I am ready, to be honest about my struggles, to speak up when I am in pain or having a horrible day. Even though I have not been officially diagnosed, I also show all the signs of having depression. There have been many days when I have wanted to die because certainly death was better than living in constant pain. And when I am having a flare up, I never want to eat. I have to force food down my throat and force myself out of bed because the physical and mental anguish is too unbearable. For so long I have hated my body. Not out of insecurity or because I hate how I look, but because of all the pain it has caused me.
When I am not in pain, I feel mostly empty. I am learning to do things that add meaning to my life and to be around people who encourage me and are there for me as much as I try to be there for them and everything I have created here on the Internet has helped me get better, but when I flare-up, I have tunnel vision. My future feels like it’s been snatched out of my hands, never to be returned. A lot of the time I feel trapped within my own body. It controls how much I can do each day and how much I can participate in my own life and that is something that I am still learning to accept. I hate limitations and I try so hard to fix everything so I can avoid thinking about the one thing I can’t ever fix.
Chronic pain is so hard to describe. When my Celiac Disease was a lot worse and when I was still unaware that I was allergic to gluten , I would get an intense pain in my gut. The best way I could ever describe it was that it felt like someone had taken a rusty, dull blade and not only stabbed me in the gut but then continued to twist the blade around until I could hardly breathe or cope with the pain. I would just be out, shopping with my parents or playing at the park or at church and then it would hit me and I would have to pull away from whatever I was doing and go to the bathroom and would be there in the stall trying to remember how to breathe so I wouldn’t scream.
Arthritis isn’t a stabbing pain. It’s more like lack of movement. Everything aches but it’s a deep down kind of ache, the kind that never leaves. There is no getting better. There are just varying degrees of stiffness and sometimes sharp pain. It is like being hit by a bus and still being expected to get up and walk around like everything is fine. It is that feeling when something is really high up on a shelf and you keep on straining and pushing yourself to just reach, but you can’t quite make it. Then you jump and try to convince yourself that if you try again, you’ll be able to grab the thing off the shelf. But you can never grab that thing off the shelf, you can just look up at it and come to terms with the fact that your arm is not 3 inches longer and never will be.
I have finally reached a point in my life where I readily bring up my arthritis. I have spent most of my life hiding the fact that I have JIA because I didn’t want to face the questions and the pity. But most of all, I didn’t want to face the fact that I am broken.
People keep on telling me what an inspiration I am and how incredibly strong I am and I want to believe them but when I am laying in bed trying to find reasons to get up in the morning or on all those nights as a child when I cried myself to sleep, I don’t feel strong. I fell lonely and shattered beyond repair. I feel as though all the pain in the universe is condensed into my fragile body and all it would take is a word or a touch to fracture me irreparably. And maybe strength isn’t being invincible, but admitting that you are not.
Living with chronic pain is beyond difficult because you are not living. Mostly it is fighting to survive each and every day. It is like being thrown into a sword fight without a sword and you do what you can to fight back but mostly you are just trying not to die and to surrender to the opponents sword because it reaches a point where getting killed is easier and less painful than continuing to fight.
Living with a chronic illness is waiting rooms and endless questions from doctors. It is needles and examination rooms that smell like rubbing alcohol. It is sleepless nights and loneliness. It is having people look at you but not seeing you. It is knowing that even if people are there for you, they won’t ever be able to understand what it is like to be you. They will never know how many times they have been lied to when you said “I am fine” instead of:
” I feel like dying and I am not sure if I can make it through today, much less the rest of my life but if I tell you all of this then I’ll have to face the sympathy in your eyes and have you ask what you can do to make me feel better when there is nothing you can do and we both know it and if I tell you all of this, I will just go away feeling like a burden to everyone in my life and I can’t help but feel responsible for that. So don’t ask me if I am okay because I will never be okay. I am trying my best but I feel my life slipping away. So let me say “I am fine” because I am still fighting even though sometimes I can’t remember why”
I am also a self-saboteur. I have always struggled to take my medications because I didn’t want to face what is wrong with me. Before my relapse on March 9th, 2014, I had been eating gluten consistently for a year and that is why I fell out of remission and I have had active arthritis ever since that day and it is all my fault. I just wish I didn’t have arthritis. I hate it. And I hate myself for not taking better care of my body. I know I should have been doing more to get better and need to continue with taking my medication consistently and the only reason I have for not doing so all these years is that I didn’t want to accept that I have a problem. That I am broken.
I wish I had an optimistic conclusion to this but I don’t because the world is not a wish-granting factory. All I can say that if you are living with chronic illness, I understand what you are going through and I would love to hear your story. Be honest about your pain and don’t minimize it like I have been doing. I cannot remember what it is like to not be in pain but on my bad days, I can remember what it feels like to be alive, and all the people who are rooting for me and that is what keeps me going.
So yeah, I am broken.
But I am also strong.
I Am Human
I walk with a spring in my step
So you can’t see me limp
I smile with tears in my eyes
But you can’t hear me crying
I am broken but
Someday I will rise up
Out of the pit I’ve been in
And I shall be magnificent
Are these just lies I tell myself?
To reach the other side
Where I live without
I am crumbling but
Day by day I am broken but made whole
And one day, (or so I tell myself)
I will rise up above the skyline
And in ruins shall lay the old me
Right now I’m in construction
The old living with the new
Because it is human to break
It is human to crumble
It is human to build and rebuild
I am not invincible
I am afraid sometimes of my own voice
But the building blocks of the universe exist in my bones
I am human
(though it seems far off)
I will be made whole.