“You’re too young to be in pain.”
I wish you were right. I wish I was too young, too naive, too careless to know what it means to feel pain make its home in your bones. I wish I knew that I had 50 more years to look forward to before I fell asleep on trains, my nerves collapsing with exhaustion. I wish I could live in a moment, free to dream during my days, without being wrenched back by the sharp sting of reality faster than you can say depression.
Instead, I watch people read my eulogy when they look at my face. I see them frown as they see a half-wrinkled face, trying to discern my age. I see them look at my body, the extra load I carry, and wonder if that’s why I struggle each day. Diagnostic looks from internet doctors, trained to dissect my body with nothing but their disbelief.
But look, no matter how many celebrities come out with their story, or how many times I’ve fallen in the street when being attacked by my own body, people will tell me I’m too young to be in pain. Maybe you and I both know that’s unfair, but hey, I’ve come to be every bit as skeptical as the people who wonder if fibromyalgia is a real thing, or if anxiety isn’t just a millennial lack of responsibility for your actions, or why we talk about our pain when there are people out there with CANCER, goddammit.
I carry a guilt within me whenever I sit down on the Tube, even if it’s in a seat not designated for people who need to sit down. I wonder if everyone is looking at me and thinking I’m sat down because I’m fat, as opposed to because I’m exhausted from the physical pain I’m in. When I stand, because I’m too afraid to ask to sit down, I wonder if people are glad that I am staying in my lane as a person of colour, by removing any opportunity to challenge people’s comfort. I get nervous when taking the bus over short distances; will people think I’m lazy? And what about when I opt to take the lift; will people assume I’m not thinking about the environment?
If my pain is minimised, and my suffering is not real, what claim do I have to my experiences? The pain of racism is dulled; only a numbness stands in place when someone cycles past me and hurls abuse, or shoves me on public transport, or shouts me out of a queue in Tesco’s. If I am too young to be in pain, then maybe I am too young to understand racism. Maybe I am too young to feel the brunt of sexism and misogyny, or truly understand why rape obliterates your sense of identity until you slowly, but surely, try and rearrange some semblance of a person and carry that silence within you, knowing full well you were anything but silent.
Maybe every pain I have ever felt is just indignant insistence that I’m different. Maybe that’s why people hate me. Maybe that’s why people hate.
But I’m not too young to understand why my pain must be kept in the dark. I know why you cannot cope to see me subvert your labels. My pain is my power; it’s undeniable evidence that I am here, and that I am suffering, when people would rather dismiss my existence altogether.
I may not be able to get up out of bed sometimes, and I may not always know how to describe how I feel. But I’m not too young to be in pain.
I’m not too young to own it.