When I was born, there were some complications that led to my left arm to be paralyzed. My first surgery to cure this was when I was 4 months old, and the latest one was last December. I have lived most of my life in some sort of physical pain from this injury. In the beginning, it was nerve pain, which is by far the most vicious. I'm very lucky that it went away when I was still very young. In middle school, it was soreness from growing faster than my arm could keep up, and in high school, it was tightness from sports and stress.
After my surgery senior year, most of that tightness was gone, and for the first time in a long time, I didn't go to bed every night exhausted from the pain. However, I still expected the pain to creep back, just as it always had. This was terrifying because when I left for college, I wouldn't have my mom to cut my food for me when my arm couldn't do it or the exact same school schedule as a friend who could help me carry my backpack to class. That's the hardest part about having an invisible disability; everyone just thinks you're rude for not holding the door for the person behind you, they never consider that you can't.
I have definitely had some battles with my arm, but I have never felt bad for myself. I know how lucky I am and I will never forget that. I am lucky to have not been injured more severely, as well as to have a gigantic support system who always pick me up when I stumble. From doctors and therapists who do the dirty work to my family who shamelessly makes jokes about "lefty," to friends who feel free to laugh at those jokes. All these people helped the pain go away in some way or another.
When I went off to school, I surprised myself at how okay I felt watching my mom and sister drive off. For some reason, I had a feeling that I was going to be alright. Still, just as I had expected, the pain came back, and when I turned to my mom to cut my steak she was 500 miles away. This period of time wasn't so great, to begin with. I hadn't made many friends in my sorority yet, while my roommate who was a good friend from home seemed to be thriving in hers. And worst of all, I was taking calculus that semester. All I could think was: why now? Why did the pain have to start up right when the rest of my life was hard enough?
Then, on a completely random day, I met a girl in my sorority who I had clicked with immediately. She introduced me to her roommates and a few more friends and suddenly I had a friend group. I felt the same shift I had felt after my surgery the year before. I wasn't going to bed exhausted from pain, I was going to bed exhausted from laughter. I realized that the pain never really goes away, it just gets louder sometimes and quieter other times. After my surgery, it got quiet because I was busy spending every minute of the last semester of high school with my best friends, and it got quiet this time for the same reason.
My injury will never heal. There is no magic potion that will cure me, though I spent much of my childhood daydreaming about one. The doctors can give me more function and they have done a tremendous job, but the thing about pain is that it's all in your head. Painkillers only last so long and in the end, can do more damage than good. When you live with chronic pain you have to get creative in ways to manage it, and there is no single correct way to do it. My way is surrounding myself with great people, and I am so grateful that I haven't ever had to search too hard to find them.