The topic of today’s post is questioning. Questioning what you might ask? Well, questioning your physician about what to expect with your new or worsening chronic illness is an obvious example. How about having your physician doubt or question your symptoms or the amount of pain that you may be in. Having a friend, spouse, significant other question if you’re really that sick or if you may be simply trying to avoid that particular family function, or worse yet that maybe you’re simply exaggerating and things aren’t as bad as you say they are.
All of these are plausible things that occur in the world of chronic illness and healthcare. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard a physician look at me and say “you can’t possibly be in that much pain. It makes no sense.” I can also tell you that properly trained physicians will tell you that while they believe they understand the nature and mechanism of how pain works in the human body, that it is in a very general sense. When it comes to things such as neuropathic pain or other nerve injuries they are essentially clueless as to why some people develop horrible neuropathies or even phantom limb pain while others simply do not.
If you have a chronic illness that results in severe fatigue or weakness, it can be easy for someone to doubt how bad it really is for you. For that matter, this can even apply to depression or other mental illness as well. Physicians are very heavily based in science and if something like pain or fatigue cannot be quantified via a laboratory test, or some sort of imaging it is very easy for them to doubt its existence or severity. Pain, fatigue, and depression are just a few such examples.
For that matter, we ourselves may allow self-doubt to creep in our minds, especially on the days where we feel guilty for not being able to do more, or that someone in our family has made us feel guilty for not being able to participate in a family event, or do something as ‘simple’ as washing the dishes, a load of laundry, or vacuuming the floor. Even though we may live with it and therefore know it is, in fact, very real we can often allow self-doubt or the doubt of other’s words or actions to affect how we feel about ourselves.
Maybe we just didn’t have enough energy, strength, balance, or endurance to get up and take a shower that day, but you got one the night before so you make the decision to conserve that energy for other necessary things, such as eating so that you have the nutrition to continue your existence. We all need to eat, right? But when your family comes home they immediately, and probably without malice, make a comment similar to “did you just sit there all day” and you immediately feel defensive and start doubting yourself even more.
While most times things like this aren’t said in malice they can cut like a knife. I’ve heard stories of people whose close friends and even healthcare practitioners who know quite a lot about them and their health, who after asking me how they are doing may respond with something as innocuous as “but you look good”. While they may mean well, what patients sometimes hear is “well we don’t believe you”, or “it can’t really be that bad” and things of that nature. Maybe a more appropriate way to respond would be “I’m sorry you feel _______, but you look like you’re managing well”, or something similar.
I won’t pretend to know the answers to the questions, nor should you. Many things we experience in life are subjective and as such can be open to interpretation. Have you ever witnessed someone stub their toe, or hit their ‘funny bone’ and thought to yourself “okay now. It doesn’t really hurt that bad?” We too make judgments based on what we perceive things to be when we can’t honestly quantify them. We quantify it in our own mind by equating it to when we’ve experienced something similar in an attempt to empathize, but inadvertently can wind up alienating somebody.
Maybe that person has a condition called allodynia, which results in an abnormal pain response to stimuli. By openly doubting them we have inadvertently planted the potential for self-doubt in their mind as well as potentially hurt someone by implying that we didn’t believe them that something was that bad.
How do you deal with questions asked of you, or questions that imply that things may not actually be as bad as they truly are for you? We’d love to hear your stories so please share with us below in the comments section.