I sat there with my head down, praying that the time would pass and I could quickly leave without others noticing my tears. If only I knew what would have been expected that morning in my psychology class. Then maybe I would have avoided the deep sadness and pain.
This came during a Thursday morning last month. I knew the topic was on the nervous system. This is something of interest because of my CMT. Since being diagnosed four years ago, I have been trying to fully understand how the nerves work and why my disease is causing severe pain and weakness. But, as I went to class, I was unaware that there would be a discussion on different illnesses.
The beginning of class went well. I learned more about the nerves and how it connects to the brain. However, my professor lectured later on what happens when the nerves are not working correctly. She did not mention anything about CMT, but it was still hard. I should have recognized the possibility of that topic.
I sat there in silence as other classmates engaged in the conversation. Some of the responses brought discouragement and deep sadness. Only my professor that morning was aware of my situation and chronic illness.
Part of me wanted to raise my hand and speak boldly. I wanted to say, “I know what it’s like to live in constant pain, and life is still worth it."
But, instead, I sat there with my head looking down. No words came out of my mouth. My heart was racing as I felt anxious. Part of me wanted to stand up and walk out of the classroom. It hurt me to hear some of the comments from others in my class. However, since I sat in the front row, leaving the classroom did not feel possible.
After my experience that day, I talked with my professor. I walked into her office with tears streaming down my face. Until that moment, I did not realize how much I was hurting.
My professor knew it would probably be a difficult topic. She apologized that there was no warning ahead of time. And she let me know that I can always come to her when I'm feeling sad. Even though my professor does not relate to my physical pain, she understands the emotional pain. I'm thankful for her support and understanding.
And for those of you who do not have a chronic illness, I encourage you to be a listening ear. Be there for the friend that is hurting today. If a difficult conversation comes up in class, and you know a classmate is going through that struggle, send them a message. Assure them that they are not alone and you are there.
I hope to look back at this experience and remember how it opened my eyes. Before my diagnosis, I remembered what it felt like not having an illness and trying to understand. It brought a realization that these types of conversations are needed. Chronic illnesses and disabilities affect more people than we are aware of.