When it comes to voicing complaints about the current state of my body, I have lost track of the number of times I’ve heard, “you’re young, wait until you’re my age” — as if being young is somehow a magical cure-all. As someone who lives with chronic back pain, I find it incredibly frustrating when people continuously dismiss my concerns based on some arbitrary stereotype which dictates that being young means I can’t have any health issues.
For the record, this is categorically untrue. I can assure you that being young is not a get-out-of-pain-free card. If only it were that easy. I’ve been struggling with pain issues since I hit my early 20s. To look at me, you’d probably never know because, on the outside, I look completely normal. I’m also good at hiding it most of the time.
That doesn’t mean the problems are not real.
Let me take a moment to clear up some common misconceptions:
1. Being young means you can physically do anything easier than older people.
That’s not how reality works. I can guarantee some 80-year-olds out there are physically capable of doing more than me on my bad pain days. Possibly even on my good days too.
2. Being young means you can bounce back quickly and not suffer any consequences.
I know my limits. Sometimes I am stubborn, and I push myself past them, even though I know better. I always suffer the consequences for that choice, though. Sometimes it takes me days to bounce back to my “normal” state after I’ve pushed myself too far.
3. You don’t look sick or injured, so you are not experiencing any pain.
This thought process is the one I struggle with the most because I live with varying degrees of pain every day. I am used to pain. If you can SEE that I’m in pain or having physical issues, it’s because it has gotten to a level that I can no longer tolerate quietly. Sometimes I require accommodations, and the need for them does not get invalidated just because you can’t visibly see my issues or because I’m “too young” to have these problems in the first place.
Human beings are complex creatures. No two people are precisely the same. Being older doesn’t automatically mean you are weak and infirm. Being younger doesn’t automatically make you strong and healthy. The human body can be both strong and incredibly fragile sometimes. There is no predicting which one you will end up with at any given age.
Reinforcing the narrative that being young equals being healthy is doing a disservice to all the people who deal with these issues daily. This attitude can open the door to depression, low self-esteem, and low self-confidence. People need to be more open-minded and remember that not all ailments are visible. I even have to remind my family members of this fact from time to time, and you’d think they would know better at this point.
Those of us who are on the younger side and dealing with pain, disability, or illness are fighting a hard enough battle as it is — why make it worse? Stereotypes are rarely accurate, so why perpetuate the myth? Why not be an ally for us instead?