It is not normal to be in pain all of the time. If that has been your reality for years, though, it can be hard to remember what life was like without it. If it doesn’t regularly land you in the hospital, or even if it does, you might feel like the back pain, the foot pain, the cough, the stomach aches, chronic migraines, whatever you experience, is just you. That that is just who you are. And when doctors are unable to determine the cause of the pain, they can reinforce this feeling of hopelessness by making you feel like your pain is all in your head. If you’ve had this experience, you know devastating it can be. 

It is extremely frustrating not to know the cause and feel without solutions. It’s not surprising that a lot of us give up on finding the cause and do our best to ignore or push through whatever pain we are experiencing.

But let us take a moment to examine the consequences of ignoring our pain or illness. And I’m writing as a former professional ignorer myself.

At the most basic level, by ignoring pain and other symptoms you are ignoring a distress signal from your body. When ignoring the signal becomes your norm it’s like you’re perpetually living on a sinking ship. Even if the ship is just taking on water for years without sinking, it’s going to be pretty wet on board and it certainly is not going to get to port anytime soon. As the captain of this ship, you’re probably also at least a little worried about drowning or expending a lot of energy telling yourself that you’re not worried about drowning.

Worse still, pushing through or ignoring symptoms all the time makes you an asshole. Think about it. If you have been living on a sinking ship, with soggy socks and cold feet, for weeks, months, or even years, it is only natural that the chronic unpleasantness creeps into the rest of your life and impacts your career, your relationships, and your everyday interactions. It zaps your capacity to be patient, compassionate, kind, and loving, to others and yourself.

If you are living with a chronic condition and have embraced it, chances are you see the suffering in others all the time: that snappy woman at the grocery store, that man who gets unreasonably pissed at the café when his latte has the wrong milk in it.

The good news is that we can all choose a different path. Instead of being an ignorance-induced asshole, we can choose to be compassionate healers, heroes on our own healing journeys.

The first step is simply being willing – willing to acknowledge the symptoms and to do your best to get to the root of them, even if you’re not sure how right now.

So, my healing hero, are you willing?