This is the first of a weekly edition called “Word War Won,” which somehow hasn’t been used before in the entirety of the Internet, so I’m feeling fairly clever. Anyway, this weekly post will focus on the words used by chronic pain and illness patients, the words that reflect our warped self-perception. We define ourselves in such terrible ways. We treat ourselves like we would never treat another person; we say cruel things and we belittle our progress. The things I’ve said in my head to my hard-working body are things I would never say to Husband or my friends.
I want to do what I can to drag this very private issue out into the sunlight.
Our bodies are doing the best they can at any given moment. Each and every day upon waking up, we forget that our bodies have been working hard all night to keep us alive and breathing. Even if we feel like they constantly fail, they are trying so very hard… and yet we tear ourselves down and say that we are broken, that we are useless, and that we are burdens on those we love. When we can’t keep up with others because of pain or illness, we don’t marvel at the fact that our bodies are managing to work at all, despite everything; instead, we yell at ourselves for not walking faster.
I am going to examine two words that I have touched upon before: crippled vs. injured. I used to call myself a cripple. It was almost a challenge to those around me; they’d get uncomfortable when I said this, but I wanted to convey that I was okay with my situation. I could handle it. I knew my limitations and operated as well as I could within them. I knew what I was.
Surely being 100 percent of a cripple is being better than 50 percent of a normal human being? Surely owning the fact that I was a cripple had to be better than false hope?
But it wasn’t and isn’t. False hope isn’t the same as being optimistic, and even false hope is better than resignation. Being crippled insinuates that one can never change. “Crippled” is an irrevocable state, not just in the body but also in the mind. If the mind believes it is crippled, it will dwell in that word forever. And we can magnify our pain by thinking that way.
I still catch myself saying it sometimes, but now (most of the time) I’m injured. I was hurt very badly, yes, more than once — but I will get better.
CRIPPLED: Adjective. [krip-uhl d] A term used by those suffering from chronic pain to describe themselves in an antagonistic manner, insinuating the total loss of normal bodily movement and the impossibility of progress. Example: “I can’t play this or any other sport ever again because I’m a cripple. Sorry to ruin the mood.”
INJURED: Adjective. [in-jerd] A non-permanent state of being inferring that the one who is suffering will one day improve despite his or her current limitations. Example: “I’m injured now, but I will heal and be back to playing Quidditch in a few months. Don’t worry, I won’t drop the Quaffle!”
Which is the better word? Which word helps us befriend our overwhelmed bodies? Which word evokes a sense of optimism? Which provides us the ability to grow and change?
Our thoughts have so much power. If we outwardly do physical therapy and all the stretches we’re assigned by doctors, it won’t amount to much if inwardly we are constantly putting ourselves down. I’m not saying if you think you’re an astronaut that you’ll find yourself floating around in space just because of the power of positivity. What I am saying is if you think you’re a cripple, your body will likely take that suggestion and run with it.
Tune in next week for another edition of WORD WAR WON!