I Do Not Have the Words. Can I Find Them?

People who live with chronic physical illness often hear the question, "how do you feel?" On the surface this question appears to be quite simple, but for people living with illness this one question can be experienced as something very complicated. This question may raise additional questions such as, "how do I feel physically, how do I feel physically today versus how am I feeling physically in general, how do I feel emotionally, or how do I feel about having an illness?" There are many other questions that may arise from this seemingly simple question of "how do you feel?" However, the possibility of answers may not always be experienced as equally plentiful, although they can be equally and perhaps even more complicated. More specifically, the person living with the illness may not always be able to answer these questions, not because s/he does not want to but rather because s/he cannot find the words to share his/her response to the question.

Not having the words to explain what it feels like is one factor that oftentimes can contribute to a person feeling completely alone and as if it is impossible for another person to understand the experience of living with illness. A person may want to desperately be able to share with others his/her struggle and journey but may feel trapped within him/her self. Others may perceive the person with the illness as wanting to avoid talking about the illness or as withdrawn or depressed. This may be true at times, but there are also instances when the person with the illness just does not have the words. The experience of living with illness can include many intrusive and traumatic procedures and appointments, which can require a person to detach from what s/he feels in order to survive and get through these difficult moments. Imagine how much pain (both emotional and physical) a person may feel when being frequently stuck with needles, placed into machines, discussed with others as if an object rather than as a person who is present, and spoken to as if his/her experience is just another case on a doctor's desk. Detaching during these instances may keep one going but it can also interfere with the crystallization of language--language used to describe what one's experience is.

One may wonder, why find the words? Why find words to describe something that may hurt? Finding words can help one feel less alone and more connected. Finding the words can help one be able to more precisely ask for what is needed. Finding the words can help one process and make meaning of the pain or hurt that is experienced. Perhaps it may be too difficult to have those words and to feel what they describe during a certain procedure or experience. However, after some time has passed, finding the words can help one let go of what occurred.

Words can be found in many ways. There is no right way and different things may work for different people. Some people find the words to share their "asnwers" or experience through artistic expression. Other people may find it in movement such as dance or yoga. Many people find the words through a relationship with another person, usually a therapist, another person going through a similar experience, or a loved one. Perhaps you do not have the words now but that does not mean you cannot find them. You just need to find the right medium for you. Some day, the question of "how do you feel" may end up generating just as many answers as additional questions. This is when you may feel that you have found  your words.