What it’s like to be a woman in pain

Being in pain every day, all day, is hard. But when you’re a woman, there’s a whole extra layer to the situation that makes everything that much harder.

It’s not just the expected stuff, like being told by a doctor that your bra is too tight and that’s probably what’s causing the excruciating pain in your right ribs that’s so awful that you literally want to jab a knife into your side and rip the bones out.

Or, after you change your bra, being told by the same doctor to just “calm down” because you’re probably just stressing yourself out, and that’s what’s causing pain so severe that you have to stop mid-conversation multiple times a day and lay flat down on the floor because you just can’t bear the agony of standing up.

No, it’s the other stuff too. It’s the things you don’t expect.

Like being accused of being a sexual assault victim, because that’s the only thing the doctor can think of to explain why it hurts like the end of the world when someone touches your ribs.

Or having a male doctor get uncomfortable examining your ribs because GASP! your boobs are right above them. Didn’t he go to medical school? Has he never seen a cadaver? Would he be so shy if it was a male patient with chest pain?

And then there’s stuff that you can’t even be sure of.

Like did that male doctor just give me Aleve for my level-10 pain because he really thinks that’s going to help? Or did he just think that, as a woman, I was probably exaggerating?

And, did that other male doctor accuse me of being an amazing actress just trying to score pain meds because he does that to every patient he sees on opioids? Or did he do that because I was a wee woman?

There’s also the stuff that bothers you, because you’re a Type A woman.

Like how you suddenly have to ask for help for everything. How you have to literally ask people to drive you to work, and do your laundry and even go over to the dining room table and grab your medication because you’re in too much pain to do any of it yourself.

And how asking for help means giving up control. So suddenly your towels aren’t folded the right way, and you have no idea where your favorite yoga pants are, and you have no say in what flavor yogurt you eat because you’re way too sick to go to the grocery store yourself. And it makes you crazy, but you have no other choice but to let it all go.

Except when you don’t let it go, and you try to do it all anyway. And so you work until you drop, and then you go home and do all the housework, and then you go on a date with your boyfriend and you end up screaming in pain in the ER because you really can’t do it all any more. You can’t even do some of it.

Then, there’s the stuff you hate.

Like when your boyfriend pretends like he understands how much pain you’re in, but then has a totally different reaction when one of his male friends tells him he endured the same thing and it was excruciating. And suddenly your boyfriend is way more sympathetic.

Or when you get genuinely upset about an emotionally abusive situation at work, and your boss tells you that it’s probably just because you’re so moody from all those pain meds you’re on.

There’s also the stuff you hate to admit.

Like how, as a woman, it’s especially hard to endure the most common side effect of medication — weight gain. And how, you hate that so much of your own self-worth is wrapped up in how you look, even when you’re in so much pain that you literally want to kill yourself to make it stop. And how you keep taking the meds and gaining the weight because you have no choice, but you also, simultaneously, fill up with shame knowing that you no longer come anywhere close to society’s definition of beauty.

Or how you can no longer stand up long enough to shower and blow dry your hair every day, and so suddenly you find yourself going a full seven days without a shower. And you know people are totally judging you for it. And they are judging you all the more harshly because you are a woman, and women are supposed to put an effort into their appearance at all times.

Or worse, how you finally decide one day to endure the shower, and hold the blow dryer, and sit on the toilet seat cover so you can do your makeup, and you take 30 minute breaks between each step so that you don’t wear yourself out. And then you put on a nice outfit and you go out to Steak & Shake and you run into someone you know and they say, “Wow! Well, you certainly LOOK great!” implying somehow that you can’t really be that sick if you’re wearing pink lipstick.

And there’s also the stuff you don’t even want to think about.

Like how you’re only 30 years old, but you’re in chronic pain every single day, which doesn’t exactly make you a great catch. So will you ever really be able to have children? And can you even think about having a kid when you can’t even take care of yourself most days? And anyway how would you even carry a baby when you need seven different medications just to survive?

So yeah, being in pain is awful. And being a woman in pain is also awful — but for a whole bunch of extra reasons.

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Gel nails and special days.

The problem with gel nails is that you can’t get the dang things off.

That, and the fact they can cost $40.

I mean, sure, it’s awesome that they don’t chip and they dry instantly, but after about two weeks, you spend 10 days picking at them trying to get the suckers off, only to find out that your real nails are more damaged than a 15-passenger van after a mission trip.

I could be reasonable about the whole thing and go to a nail salon and ask them to take them off or something I guess, but I’m scared they’ll try to talk me into getting another set and then I’ll feel bad and I’ll want to say no because I can’t afford it, but there will be a 50% chance I’ll say yes, so instead, I just pick at them.

For 10 days.

And I look like I lack basic hygiene abilities.

I got the nails for April’s wedding.

I was the maid of honor, so I figured, if there’s ever a time for gel nails it’s the day you’re the maid of honor in your best friend’s wedding.

Between that and fake eyelashes, there’s 75% chance that I looked better on her special day than I will for my own.

Of course, that’s assuming I’ll have my own.

I’d like to think special days don’t have to be weddings though. I’d like to think that I’ve already had a handful of really special days.

Like the day I got my master’s Degree. Or the day my sister had to do a project about someone she admires and she did the project about me, and even drew a portrait of my face, complete with the part in my bangs that always happens by the end of the day even thought I want my bangs to go straight across.

Or the day I got a car with heated seats and automatic start.

Or the day I experienced my first youth mission trip foot washing ceremony and I prayed over 19 kids and cried for three hours straight because the power of the holy spirit was that overwhelming. Or the first day of the first Sweets and Snacks Expo I ever covered, where I literally walked across a threshold into Candy Land, Illinois.

Or the day I stood at the top of a mountain and looked down over Bogota, Colombia, the most beautiful city in the world.

Ya, I’d like to think that I’ve had a couple special days here and there.

On exactly none of those days though, was I wearing fake eyelashes and gel nails, so I’m not really sure if they count.

I’d like to think they do though. That maybe, for me, it will be completely all right if I’m unwed forever.

And if a husband happens to come along, I can tell him all about the heated seats and the foot washing and Bogota, while I sheepishly hide my half-picked gel nails.

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Confessions of a mission trip leader

It’s been a week since we got back from the youth mission trip to Denver, give or take a day depending on whether you count our 3 a.m. arrival as “Friday night” or if you want to get all technical and count it as “early Saturday morning.”

It’s been a week and I have just now regained my ability to stay awake without taping my eyelids open. I’m still tired, no doubt , but I can make it through a trip to the grocery store without feeling the need to fall asleep on the drive home.

Mission trips are Hades on my system. The main problem, of course, is the lack of sleep. The days start at 7 a.m. and it’s lights out at 11 p.m. Except, as a leader, that means I was up at 6 a.m. and I didn’t go to sleep until about 12:30 p.m.

We are supposed to have free time between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. each day, but by free time, they mean shower time. And our showers were about 20 minutes away on the days we didn’t get lost, and about 30 minutes away on the days we did (three of the four). So, ya, I didn’t get a lot of free time. Actually, I didn’t end up with any free time.

Which I means I literally spent every waking minute of the week with someone calling out “Crystal, what time is breakfast?” “Crystal, what are we doing next?” “Crystal, are these shorts long enough?” “Crystal, is it free time? Can I use my cell phone?” “Crystal, the other leader said these shorts are long enough, so now are they long enough?” “Crystal, what’s our evening activity tonight?” “Crystal, do you know where my water bottle is?” “Crystal, one of your youth is wearing shorts that aren’t long enough.” “Crystal, what state are we in again?” “Crystal, why can’t I wear flip-flops on the mountain?” “Crystal, I just don’t like the taste of water.” “Crystal, you-know-who and you-know-her are making purple.” “Crystal, I have a bloody nose.” “Crystal, I have a bloody nose too.” “Crystal, what time is breakfast?”

It was a long week.

If my calculations are correct, we actually had six bloody noses in all. Four of which were inflicted on my poor sister, who will never in her life go to Denver again unless she is drug there by hit men or Satan. Her nose just doesn’t get along with the mountainous altitude.

And speaking of mountains, don’t worry, I managed to fall on  jagged rock while we were on Lookout Mountain, near where Buffalo Bill is buried. I ended up with a bruise on my butt that was literally bigger than a baseball, but I couldn’t even show anyone because leaders pulling down their underwear is usually frowned upon during trips like this.

Then, on Wednesday night, I stayed up until about 1:30 a.m. to write personal “Pony Express” notes to all 18 youth and the other 3 adults who were on the trip from my church because I hadn’t had even one minute of above mentioned free time to do it any other  day. And I was so tired when I went to bed that I almost fell asleep on the way to my air mattress.

Within seven seconds of hitting the pillow I was 75 percent asleep. And one second later I felt the stupid mouse.  (Insert screech.)

I maintain that the mouse was actually inside the the air mattress because I felt it jumping in there, and I KNOW WHAT I FELT. But everyone I try to explain that to seems to think I’m crazy, so whatever.

Except my mom. Because she was sleeping right next to me on the same air mattress, and felt it too. No, for real. She did.

Irregardless, I clearly had no choice but to go upstairs into an off-limits room and sleep on the random couch. Clearly.

Thankfully, I was out of that room at 6:55 a.m. the next morning, because I just missed the 25 women who came in at 7 a.m. to hold Bible study. Phew. I owe you one God.

The thing is though, no matter the mouse, or the jagged rocks or the bloody noses, or the lack of sleep or the week-long recovery process, the whole trip is amazing.

No. Amazing is too week. The trip was an incredible-awesome-tastic-wonderful journey that deeply changed all of us.

Yes, we served others — my crew sorted through donations at a thrift store, served a nursing home where 95 percent of the patients had some form of dimension, and painted a two-story house, while other crews from my church worked at a food bank, helped at the Boys and Girls Club, sorted cabinet doors (don’t ask), put on puppet shows for urban ministries and pulled weeds — but the serving is just a part of the story.

We also bonded while jamming to MC Hammer Pandora radio on the 16-hour drive there; learned to live without our cell phones; realized that one or two days without blow drying our hair wasn’t the end of the world; saw each other with bed head and hugged anyway; prayed over every meal, and every meeting and every day; lived a whole week with any air conditioning; dove into deep theological discussions at 10:30 p.m. when we were so tired that some of the youth were literally falling asleep while we spoke; shared our deepest wounds, our deepest fears and deepest secrets and then saw the wounds start the heal, saw the chance to conquer our fears and realized that some of our secrets aren’t so bad after all.

We loved, we felt the Holy spirit, we saw each other in a new light, and we saw ourselves in a different way.

I booked this trip in October — I remember because we got the “October special” on the deposit rate — and I have been praying for it every single day since then. I incessantly asked others to pray for it, I begged youth to sign up, I begged parents to let them, I asked for donations, I asked for more donations, I begged for donations, I begged for more youth to sign up and then I prayed some more.

And on Thursday morning (our last full day on the trip), there was a moment that made it all worth it. One of the many throughout the week.

Near the end of the morning devotional time, one of the youth came up to me, with tears in his eyes, and said simply, “Thank you” and then gave me a hug.

And I knew, that this trip had left a mark on him. And I wouldn’t trade that in for any amount of sleep in the world.

Thank you so much to everyone who prayed for us, thank you so much to everyone who donated and thank you God for letting me be a part of it.

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