Interview By: Fela M'tima
FELA: Hi Lindsay! I've become slightly obsessed with the poetry you post.
First, I'd like to get to know you better. Your handle is languageofpain, which I love. How long have you been battling chronic pain, and what is causing it?
LINDSAY: First of all, I hope you know the slight obsession is mutual. I love what you girls do for endosisters everywhere!
In terms of my pain, there are a few issues at hand, such as my endometriosis and colitis and a number of previous conditions that I had like shingles. But there’s the component of all-over chronic torso pain that is so far undiagnosed. It’s a mystery pain and I’m still waiting for the relief of understanding what it is and why it exists. (Doctors here are baffled so I actually just applied yesterday to go to the Mayo Clinic. Fingers crossed they take me!)
FELA: How has having chronic pain affected your mental health?
LINDSAY: This question is huge. I just recently lost my job due to my health issues and the weight of my situation lately has been absolutely crushing me. I was fairly resilient for a number of years, but when I realized that my independence and freedom had been robbed of me, I started to feel depression visit more and more often, and stay for longer and longer. I think anyone who’s battling their body day in and day out goes to really dark places: depression tells you you’re a burden to those you love, depression tells you you “can’t have it all” like other people, and inevitably depression made me begin to question why I was still here. What’s the point of all the suffering? Is it worth it to do it every single day? These are really difficult questions for a young person to wrestle with, so I ensure I see my wonderful counselor weekly, have an online community of support (like all of you!), and continue writing to try create resolve for myself.
FELA: Does writing about pain help living with it?
LINDSAY: Yes! Absolutely. Writing is my counselor; writing is my therapy; writing is my teacher. I put off writing about my pain for SO long because I was so concerned about what others would think. Will they think I’m grabbing for attention, will they think I’m whiny, will people think I’m just complaining about life and bringing everyone around me down? But I’ve learned that NOT giving a shit about what other people think is the key to sanity (and creativity). A wise friend once told me that when you share a burden with somebody, it gets cut in half, and the more people you tell, the more people can help you carry it. Writing about my pain does exactly that: it has helped relieve me of my pain’s overwhelming burden, as well as carry that cross so to speak for other people (those who comment, share, DM me, etc.).
FELA: What do you wish people without chronic pain knew about life with it?
LINDSAY: “We never fake ill — but we’re masters at faking well.” This is a line from an article on the Chronic Illness On The Mighty (which EVERY person should read). I want people to know that being “ill” can look like many things: it doesn’t always mean having tubes going up your nose or using a wheelchair or being bald from cancer. Being ill can look like you and me. Some days it’s a blessing I don’t look as awful as I feel, but other days it’s a curse because many people can be skeptical of my situation or hesitant to believe me. I shouldn’t have to feel like I need to PROVE that I’m sick, but I often do. No one would give up their livelihoods, careers, athletics, and relationships just to put on a performance or fake sick. This is real for us, and having those around us that believe us makes all the difference on some days.
FELA: What is your favorite piece of writing that captures the feeling of physical pain?
LINDSAY: The devil for the physical aspect, escape for the mental aspect.
FELA: How do you cope physically while surviving through multiple chronic illness's?
LINDSAY: Honestly, some good soup, a heating pad, and 15mg of morphine go a long way, am I right?!
An important thing I’m learning is that to cope physically I must cope mentally. Before when I would feel a pain flare coming on, my very first instinct would be to PANIC. I’m talking, limbs flying, hyperventilating, screaming the fuck word kind of a frenzy. I was (and still am) so damn fearful of what my body can do to me and make me feel, to the point that I would absolutely lose my mind because I knew what was coming. I know now that I need to keep my mind as calm as possible, because my body will react accordingly. The pain will come no matter what, and the flare will reside no matter what, so I just need to decide how I’m going to react to that pain.
I’ve also learned how important honesty is and not concerning yourself with what others are going to think. If I’m out with friends on a good day and I feel the pain starting to flare, I need to confront it, be real that I need to go home and lie down, and DO IT. It’s never worth it to do (or not do) anything because of what others might say or think. You do what’s best for you because you’ll be the one to suffer the consequences, not others.
FELA: How has writing changed you as a person?
LINDSAY: Writing hasn’t just changed me, writing has created me. It was my identity from day one when a hyperactive storyteller was born into a family of level-headed numbers people. (Meanwhile I failed Math in Grade 10 and 11, #blacksheep). Words inhabit my every muscle, every marrow, every cell and it’s interesting that pain lives in all those same places, too.
FELA: How has pain changed you as a person?
LINDSAY: Honestly, this question is a really difficult one, because I’m currently in the anger (not acceptance) phase of grief. I feel like pain has taken so much away from me, has stripped me, and left me raw. Pain is a selfish, greedy spirit and is a taker, tug-of-warring with me over my identity, my mental health, my future. However, it has given me an entirely fresh perspective and empathy for people with chronic illness, pain, and disabilities. It has shown me a community of inspiration that I likely would never have seen (truly seen) before. I’ve met spirits of warriors and pillars of strength all along the way and, although we’re suffering, nothing is more comforting to see eye-to-eye with these beautiful women and men.
FELA: If you knew someone was out there feeling hopeless with chronic pain, what poem would you share with them?
LINDSAY: Knife. Many people responded beautifully to it on social media, so I think it’s the one that’s helped others the most so far.
FELA: What inspires you to write?
LINDSAY: Anything that’s innately human. Suffering, hope, love, equality: anything that highlights the human experience. Oh, and feminism. Because women are fucking goddesses of this planet that deserve to be worshiped and recognized for the cultivators of life that they are. (And not just mothers of life but also art, fashion, community – and let’s be real – peace.)
FELA: I want to thank you so much for sharing, do you have anything else you'd like to add that hasn't been mentioned?
LINDSAY: For any women suffering from endometriosis, pelvic pain, infertility, painful sex, cramps from Satan, skipped work days, ovarian cysts, you name it: I think of you every time I write. I think of us as a community grieving together, heads on each other’s shoulders, both leaning on one another and holding one another up. My writing is for you and I don’t want to be a faceless name who’s just another writer. Please DM me at anytime to chat, to cry, hell, to laugh together about our brokenness. I will always be there for you, so please reach out if you need it. Us sisters gotta stick together.