Have you ever suffered pain and not let anyone know? As you have that discussion, the pain throbs in your body silently. The pain is so bad, you feel nauseous and are thinking about holding it together and focusing on the task you are doing. Your body is screaming at you to sit down but you stand and support your kids at the side of the field, chatting away, joking, putting on a brave face whilst trying to silence the pain. The physical sensation creeps around your body spreading down your legs, into your arms and the throbbing in your head begins. But still you say nothing – you struggle on with your day, silently talking yourself through the physical torment of the pain, trying to make yourself a little bit more comfortable. Today that was me.
I woke with a pain in my right hip, radiating down my right leg and making me feel sick. I exercised and stretched in the hope that the pain would go away, but it didn’t, not today. I prepared for the day – got the kids up, made their breakfast and delivered them to their schools. I walked the dogs – smiling, laughing and chatting with other dog walkers – and I came home to get on with my paperwork, still in pain. Not one person knows about the pain radiating through my body, occasionally spiking and feeling worse, and at times, easing off. I have considered taking pills but over-the-counter tablets seem to do nothing and I am not bad enough to need prescribed medication at this time. So today, I suffer in silence and that’s ok, it’s my choice. When this pain has been known to get so bad, it affects my mobility and I end up crying in frustration, desperation. I usually find myself in the doctors begging for medication as a last resort and I hate needing it.
I am not embarrassed by my physical pain, and I don’t remember considering the embarrassment of my mental health issues but I still didn’t speak about it. While I sit here and consider my situation, I am transported back to the better of my bad days whilst living with depression. They were days touched by hope, days where the thoughts didn’t feel so overwhelming – my ‘lighter’ days, if you will. Days where I was rational about my situation but still I said nothing. Even when my life was limited by my mind, my thoughts and my emotional state, I did not seek help. I did not even consider asking for help, until I eventually got to the point that I did it myself. I’d find it easier to tell someone that my back or my hip is causing problems day to day – I can describe where the pain is and what it feels like, I know where to reach for help and I have the support from others who are trying to manage similar complaints.
When we describe physical pain, it’s in terms of where, what and how, and it is better understood by others. But try telling someone how your head is working, how your thoughts race through your mind and you think the most absurd things – quite damaging things. To be honest, it feels impossible to describe because you don’t understand it yourself. You know how absurd these thoughts are, so the fear of judgement and rejection is huge.
This isn’t a story about the right and wrongs of the different treatments available for mental health; it is to highlight the similarities and the differences. Not everyone tells you they are in physical pain – in the same way, not everyone tells you they are in mental and emotional pain. The physical symptoms are not always visible, which often makes them less accepted by society with some people saying “you look fine to me”. Opening up and being mentally and emotionally vulnerable presents an unpredictable outcome – will they tell you to ‘man up’? Will they believe you? How will they react? Mental illness is the same as a physical condition in that respect – it is sometimes invisible to others and therefore not seen, not recognised at times.
We find it hard to let people know about our struggles – whether physical, mental and emotional pain. Please be kind to yourself if you are struggling. Be kind to others too, you may not know who is struggling.