"What is Even Wrong with You?!"

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It’s the question of the century, really—what is wrong with Sydney Kirkpatrick? Ok, ok, I’m just kidding…kind of. I get asked this ALL THE TIME. And it’s time I address it….because even though I took a break from this blog to deal with all the things wrong with me…I never took a break from caring about people, conversing with other struggling women, and maintaining the ministry aspect of this blog. And everyone’s always curious—so what “chronic pain and illness” are you coping with and fighting?!

See, I skirt around the issue most of the time, usually just referring to my health problems as “chronic pain," because the truth feels so embarrassing and uncommon. But, in reality—it’s not. It’s just not usually openly talked about. And many don’t even know that the things I’m dealing with exist.  

Also, it’s hard to tell people what I’m experiencing, because it includes multiple things all combined into one, or should I say many complicated problem(s) to treat. There is no one diagnosis, no one treatment, no one answer.

But, if I had to try to list it all out for people, it would look a little like this: Chronic pelvic floor dysfunction complicated by SI joint dysfunction, hypermobility of my joints, and 6 bulging discs in my back. All of which are complicated by chronic small intestinal bacteria overgrowth/irritable bowel syndrome which leads to systemic inflammation in my body, and of which is likely a result of an autoimmune disease I am not comfortable disclosing. And finally, all of these things are complicated by an autoimmune thyroid that messes with my hormones if I don’t keep my inflammation down.

All of those things combined cause me to experience significant, uncomfortable, and some days, painful bladder pressure and pelvic nerve pain. This pressure radiates through my myofascial tissue—so if you touch my thigh, it makes me feel like you punched my bladder. If you pinch my upper stomach, it feels like you are pressing on my bladder. So, obviously that’s a pretty annoying, very uncomfortable issue to have when you have two toddlers climbing on you all day.

These things also cause my low back to ache, throb, and send funky nerve sensations down my legs if I go too long without visiting the chiropractor. They cause me all sorts of digestive upset, EXTREME bloating if I don’t eat a very strict, very small-portioned, very low-FODMAP and paleo diet. They cause me brain fog, anxiety, depression, and an inability to concentrate if I don’t keep very well on top of the inflammation in my body through my diet and balancing my blood sugar. I deal with bad reactive hypoglycemia which increases burning nerve pain through my body if I’m not careful to control my blood sugar levels.

These things are not easy to deal with. They are hard, VERY hard. Especially because I have a 1 year old and 2 year old to take care of all day every day. They make sitting a challenge. Eating a challenge. Playing with my children a challenge. My marriage a challenge. And basically every aspect of my life a challenge.

So many people assume I’m better because I act better, but the truth is, I’ve just learned not to complain. I took my dear Grandpa’s advice (because he’s suffered from severe Rheumatoid Arthritis his whole life), and I “got off my butt and stopped feeling sorry for myself.” Well, most days I follow that advice. Some days though I lay on my couch and complain, cry, and spew anger at life to my husband, who is the best friend and supporter in the world.  

But see, people always seem so confused if I mention chronic pain or illness or if I post on social media about it, because I don’t look like I’m in pain, I don’t look “sick.” And that’s the problem with invisible pain and illness, it seems to illicit judgmental comments or well-meaning, but sometimes poorly-worded questions.

 Because here’s the thing—though most things in my life are a challenge, I’ve learned to modify them. You don’t notice my pain, but you also don’t notice me telling my 1 year old over and over while he cries “sorry, I cannot pick you up right now. You have to walk.”

You don’t notice my pain, but you also don’t notice me bribing both boys to climb into their car seats themselves so I don’t have to lift them. You don’t notice the 10 minutes of stretching, or the icing that ensues after I flared myself putting them into the car when they wouldn’t listen.

You don’t notice me telling my husband I can’t golf with him because the golf cart will flare me, or telling him I can’t go to the movies because I can’t stand to deal with the bladder flare after sitting that long. You don’t notice the grief I experience being unable to sit comfortably on a couch, because instead you see me choose to sit on the floor with a smile on my face. You don’t notice the times I feel shooting pain and I stop speaking or seem distracted, because I tell you I simply “lost my train of thought.”

You see me as fine, because I act fine. I avoid my pain, I try hard to modify my life to make it as minimal as possible. I learned to thoroughly enjoy the things I can do, instead of getting caught up in all the things I can’t. So, to you that makes me look like I’m doing great; as if I’m not suffering at all.

Yet, behind the scenes there is a girl crying herself to sleep at night because she can’t get comfy and she feels like her bladder is consuming her entire body. There is a husband massaging, massaging, and massaging some more to try to relieve discomfort and pain. There is a mom heartbroken because she feels like she had to teach her toddler boys to be super independent way too soon.

From my end, I so painfully remember all the things I loved and can no longer do—like running, rocking my children, going out to dinner with my husband, or simply going to eat at a friend or relative’s house WITHOUT having to pack my own food! Exercise, shaving my legs, teaching Sunday school, loading the dishwasher, switching the laundry, putting laundry away—the list of things that became much harder for me when this all started is long. You don’t see it, but I do, and it’s emotionally and mentally exhausting.

It’s hard to endure physical pain and suffering. And it’s a unique kind of hard when that suffering is invisible to others. And it’s extra unique when that suffering involves pelvic pain and irritable bowels. Because like I said before, many people don’t even realize those things exist.

So, part of why I shared this today is because I realized people really don’t know, but often wonder—what is wrong with me and what I am referring to when I vaguely post about chronic pain or my health problems on social media. But part of why I’m posting this is to urge you to be extra-considerate and kind to those who are suffering, especially if you know they have an “invisible illness.” Know that there is likely an inner sense of grief and many other emotions they feel even if God gives them strength to stay positive and happy. Know that they struggle, even if it’s not visible.

Help those who are suffering. Pray for them and support them even when they seem “better.” And try not to judge anyone—even if you think there’s nothing wrong. So many people have an unknown story, and they need mercy and love, not judgment or insensitive comments. Let’s collectively try harder to love on our brothers and sisters in Christ. They need it, especially those enduring health problems.