One morning in November of 2002, at the age of twenty-one, I woke up with acute pain in my ass. It felt like someone had implanted hot stones the size of grapefruit into each of my cheeks, directly over the joints. The pain was strongest in my butt, but it also stretched down the back of my thighs. I “just” woke up like that and fifteen years later, I’m still unclear about what happened to cause the pain.
I lived with that acute pain into 2011. During those nine years, I visited numerous specialists in a desperate attempt to figure out what was wrong. It seemed like every doctor, specialist, therapist, and practitioner I saw told me I was full of shit.
Full of shit. Lying. Faking. Malingering.
Not being believed hurt almost as much as the physical pain itself.
With the pain at its worst, I couldn’t sit down – meaning I had to stand to use the toilet. With the pain at its best, I couldn’t wear a belt or sit for more than thirty minutes without opiates or muscle relaxants. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t go to school. I couldn’t socialize.
Every day was a struggle with the invisible pain that only I knew; a constant battle against the deterioration of the quality of my life that only I saw the reasoning behind. I was living only for an answer and when that answer wasn’t forthcoming, I focused on not acknowledging the pain. I came to identify with veterans who returned from active duty and turned to drugs and alcohol because their physical and emotional trauma was isolating and unbearable. I became an alcoholic and tried to obliterate my existence through the numbness of what the bottle provided. I gave up hope of ever finding an answer and of ever feeling better.
But nine years of acute pain was eventually diagnosed as a very real injury (a result of an invisible illness) that required multiple surgeries to fix. While the physical corrections have been made, fifteen years after the original injury I am still struggling to trust people again. Just like the horrific pain in my ass, the rupture in my confidence of others is also invisible.
I’ve been writing to express myself since I was a little kid, yet this rupture of my confidence leaves me completely speechless. Words feel impossibly inadequate for the pain my emotions still contend with every day. When what is already invisible is also speechless, it becomes damn hard to communicate about it to others — and that doesn’t encourage trust of others, nor of one’s self.
As what can’t be seen is often not trusted, believed, nor given credence, the invisible is easily dismissed– and for nine years, that’s how I felt: dismissed and invisible. I spent those years essentially screaming “please believe me” to everyone I came across, but no one was confident that what I was saying was true. No one believed that I was in acute pain every day and that disbelief caused its own acute pain.
Almost a decade of being believed to be a liar has me more than a little wary of people. I’m learning how to trust again, but trust is invisible, too.