Deciphering Chronic Pain Code: I’m Fine

I am as guilty of saying these two little words as any of us. It has become somewhat of a running joke in my house, as to what FINE actually means. If you ever watched the Italian Job, you know what I mean. Also, it seems to be a universal knowledge of what a woman actually means when she utters those two little words and it is never good. But here are a few of my reasons for why I might say I’m fine, and maybe you can relate too.

• You ask how I am: but I don’t want to upset or weigh you down, because the reality is, I feel as bad as any other day.
• Attempting normal: It’s not as easy as it seems to “look” normal when most days I feel like I’m falling apart. In fact, I have seriously considered writing all the reasons why I think I deserve an Oscar for Best Performance but all my chronic friends deserve one. Maybe it’s possible for us to share? Display it on the mantle for a week and pass it on. All joking aside, normalcy is vital when your life is very far from normal.
• Fear of disappointing: Whether it’s kids, spouse, friends or work- sometimes it’s all I can do to just push through the pain even when I know I need to rest and even when I know it might take a week to recover if I just push through. It’s as disappointing to me as it is everyone else when I can’t continue any given task or what should be something fun with family or friends.
• That dirty little word- selfish: As much as I shouldn’t feel like this, the act of extra self-care for myself when I need it makes me feel incredibly selfish. Sometimes it’s just easier saying I’m fine, adding an excuse of why I can’t do whatever it might be and then going off and doing what I need to, to take care of me. It really is kind of funny, in a not so ha-ha way, how chronic illness makes you feel like you have some sort of problem that you need to hide it from people. I kinda want to have meetings now. Coffee and donuts. I mean I don’t need an excuse for donuts ever, but it does make it easier.
• Broken Record Syndrome: If you think it’s annoying to constantly hear I am not well, how do you think I feel? Seriously. Sometimes saying “I’m fine” is as much for my sanity as it is yours.

I also think it might be helpful to understand inside of the mind of someone with chronic pain, or perhaps it is more, how someone with chronic pain deals with the non-chronic folks around them. For instance:
• I’m having a good pain day: Good pain day is an inherently funny, strange statement. Oxymoron, if you will. But they do happen. It’s a day where you feel you can accomplish everything you want to, but have to remember to cut it in half or you’ll wipe yourself out for a week. No joke.
• Door Slam aka I don’t want to talk about it: I don’t want to explain how crappy I feel, because not even I want to deal with it. I don’t want fake sympathy, I don’t want sugary sweet, bless your hearts, because people don’t know what to say. Another reason I say “I’m fine.” I don’t need sympathy because I throw enough pity parties for myself.
• Happy Shiny Face: I feel horrible, but if I let that horrible escape from some un-monitored crack in my armor, I’m done. So I lie, lie, lie, lie and lie to myself and everyone around me in order to get through the day. Besides, no one can help me, so how does it help anyone to share what is really going on?
• Coping mechanism: Sometimes it’s easier to just smile and not talk about the pain. You put on your handy-dandy little mask of “Everything’s right in the world,” and you press on. You tailor everything you do that day to fit the mask so you can blend in. You play that little mental game over and over until you just can’t anymore. Until you don’t even believe it anymore.

Sometimes I really feel like I am part cyborg. Not just because I have a prosthetic hip and pins and rods in my back but because chronic pain has made me feel as though I am no longer human, that I have to translate how chronic pain makes me feel and what goes through my mind, to others.

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