Stay in bed and cry all day, and you're not trying hard enough.
Show improvement and look beautiful, and you're not actually sick.
Share your terrifying reality with others, and you're seeking attention.
Keep to yourself and pretend that everything is okay, and you're not actually sick.
Smile, and you're not in pain.
Cry, and you're in more pain than the people around you can tolerate.
I've found myself spinning this dizzy cycle in my head lately and trying to understand how I'm supposed to act and feel as someone with a chronic illness. I've found myself listening to the discouragement that comes from this vicious cycle from other chronic illness warriors. And I've seen lots of posts on social media expressing the same concerns in attempts to understand what exactly we're supposed to look and feel like as chronically ill people.
Unfortunately this perception that other people can sometimes give is frustrating and causes a lot of guilt and an unnecessary inward struggle. I often put extra pressure on myself because apparently there is a certain "look" that chronically ill people have and if we don't fit that particular "look" then we're not an acceptable sick person. The irony of that is that nobody actually knows what that "look" is. They just believe that it's different from whatever vibe we're giving off.
I believe this pattern can be found in any kind of misunderstood suffering. If you haven't been through it yourself, you don't understand, and while it's okay to not understand, it's also important that we increase our love and compassion towards that level of suffering because generally, the person is already suffering enough without that extra pressure. We don't need to put that pressure on ourselves or others because the reality is that PAIN AND JOY CAN COEXIST, and it's okay!
Your Traumas Don't Define You
"I don't want to be known as the sick girl."
I remember having that thought when I was at my worst. I remember feeling extreme frustration from my desire for people to offer extra love and kindness that I desperately needed at the time, but also to know that there is more to me than Lyme disease. It seemed to me like I couldn't have both and I remember feeling like I was never enough because I was now some disease that controlled my entire life and trashed my hopes and dreams for my future.
Fortunately, that was never the case at all, and I've since learned that it's not your traumas that define you. I have Lyme disease. That doesn't mean I am Lyme disease. Your traumas, afflictions, and adversities in life are there to shape and refine you into the person that God intends for you to be. They exist to soften you and shape you. It's through the furnace of fire that we become flexible and transformed into something beautiful. The piece of coal that never had to undergo heat and pressure was still just a piece of coal in the end. We may come out with a few burns. We may be wounded. But we're not eternally broken or stamped with our eternal label. Nobody comes out of this life with a big stamp on their forehead that states their largest trauma.
It's not our traumas that define us, but how we choose to respond to those trials. And sometimes our response is a day in bed or a day in tears or simply doing the best we can do at the time, and that's okay. And other times that response is laughing through the tears and smiling through the heartache, and I've learned that those days are often some of the best days. Some of those days are the days that we learn important life lessons that change us forever. On those days there is no "look" that I feel the need to have. It's just me in my most raw form, and sometimes that form is exactly what I need to be in the moment.
A friend once told me that it's okay to cry. It's okay to stay in bed for a little while. It's okay to be debilitated for a moment. Just don't freeze. The joyful message is that even in moments of pain and paralysis, we don't have to freeze. We can continue on to the best of our ability with hopeful hearts. Our best efforts are always counted in the sight of the Lord, and when we're given that knowledge, we don't have to submit to all the views of other people. When we press forward the best we know how in our adversities, we can come to a place of self-love where we can be happy with our own state of being, whether that be in tears or in laughter.
How is it possible for joy and pain to coexist?
I've often found in life that opposites can regularly coexist. I've found that I can make a list of things I love about myself, while simultaneously making a list of things I hate about myself. I've found that I can be in pain and still find things to smile about. I've found that even when I feel hopeless, there's still hope in the journey.
How is that possible? How can pain and joy exist at the same time? That phenomenon is made possible through a loving God who keeps His promises, and a Savior who was sent to succor and sustain us when we can't manage to sustain ourselves.
First, God promises us that ALL trials come to an end, even if the end isn't seen in this life.
John testifies in the book of Revelation of the people who "come out of great tribulation and have sanctified themselves... that God will wipe away all tears from their eyes." (Revelation 7:14-17)
He then later testifies of God's people and how "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain." (Revelation 21:5)
And then there is our Savior, who He Himself declared at the end of His sufferings: "It is finished." (John 19:30) There will come a day when every single one of us will be able to declare that "it is finished." Our sufferings do come to an end, not always through death, but through healing and enabling love and power made possible through Christ.
That fact alone is something to rejoice about.
Second, God consecrates all of our afflictions for our good and promises us that our glory in heaven will be returned twice as much as our suffering on earth.
Peter tells us that the trial of our faith is more precious than gold. And "although we may be tried with fire we can be found unto praise, honor, and glory at the appearing of Christ." (1 Peter 1:7)
He then later tells us to "think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy." (1 Peter 4:12-13)
God reveals to us in those words that we can REJOICE during our fiery trials. That does not diminish our pain. That doesn't say that we're not actually suffering on such a horrendous level. That doesn't tell us that we're not allowed to feel our pain because that's a sign of weakness, and we lack faith if we feel pain. It declares to us that suffering isn't a strange thing to our Father, and He understands, and He promises hope for a better future. We can be ourselves, and we can find joy in the moment. Not the kind of joy that promises no pain and tear-less eyes, but an inward joy that declares in our hearts that this too will pass.
It's okay to look like you're struggling. It's okay to look happy and beautiful. You should absolutely share your reality with others, and if you feel the need to fake it until you make it then that's okay too! It's okay to smile when you're in pain, and it's okay to cry in front of people even if it makes them uncomfortable! Life is full of ups and downs that we were meant to experience. And as we become accustomed to pain, we are granted the blessing to experience joy, even in the midst of suffering.
Thank goodness for a merciful God and Savior who loves us through it all.