Written by India Jaggon.
For people of color, queer people, and survivors of domestic child abuse, it can be hard to express our pain. Partly out of our tongues being silenced, and secondly, out of fear of our pain not being taken seriously. So, we shrink ourselves.
As someone who prides themselves on being transparent, open and aware of their emotions, I didn’t realise how deeply affected I was by my inability to express pain. This came to surface when I broke my arm in five places as I was attempting to pole dance at a queer strip club. As I swirled from the pole and landed on my arms I felt my right arm collapse, the whole thing turned to jelly, and the result afterwards wasn’t pretty. Eight hours of surgery and a shit tonne of weed later, I had nearly 15 screws in my arm and 5 metal plates, and a year’s worth of physio to painfully get through. I started to look at myself in pieces; an arm, a leg, a head, toes, hair, and like most things that are vaguely traumatic, it brings you an awareness of your mortality, fragility and your capacity for pain.
Alone with no one to comfort me, I was in the worst pain I had ever felt, and for some reason I couldn’t scream.
After I came out of surgery my arm was totally numb, so I wasn’t in any pain – just slightly out of it. However, a few hours late as the visiting hours were over, the screws they had put in my bones started to make themselves known and I was in agony like I had never experienced before. Alone with no one to comfort me, I was in the worst pain I had ever felt, and for some reason I couldn’t scream. I lay there secretly dying in jealousy of the irritating woman next to me, who screamed throughout the night “Painkiller, Painkiller!”. I was almost in awe of her ability to draw attention to herself and the nurses rushed to soothe her with motherly-like attention.
The woman next to me kept me and the rest of the ward up most of the night with her incessant screaming and crying. After about six hours, something in me switched, a need to be seen, to draw attention to myself, a realization that my pain was just as worthy of attention as hers. I would no longer sit silently for the fear of upsetting or waking others. After six hours, that one annoying woman who I first saw as an attention seeker, became my pain guru. So, like a child, I started to scream, tears running down my face as I pressed the buzzer. Three out of five of my nurses were Jamaican middle aged women, which I do not doubt was an act by God of divinity. Suddenly I found myself, aged 25, sat in the Royal Hospital, being pandered to by a like for like stand in of my own mother. It felt glorious!
After six hours, that one annoying woman, who I first saw as an attention seeker, became my pain guru. So, like a child, I started to scream, tears running down my face as I pressed the buzzer.
A dear friend once said “We must first believe we are worth fighting for”. That sentence rings in my ears like church bells, I extend it to say “we must also believe we are worthy of care, and that our pain is real.” It took me going through the most excruciating physical pain of my life to realise that all my pain was real, after years of gaslighting myself when I did beckon in care. Allowing ourselves to be held without guilt is something we have to learn, especially as people of color, queer people and survivors. Our pain gets washed over so easily that we need to learn the tools to express it. We need to get the language of pain.
All too often marginalized bodies are seen as strong, unemotional and aggressive. But we have the right to emotion away from anger, which I feel is the emotion that has been ‘gifted’ to us as default.
The words our mouths are afraid to say; “I’m hurting”, “You hurt me”. We fear these words. We self talk ourselves out of them, for in the past they have not been met with kindness or taken seriously. Our emotional home is jaded. After years of being misheard and squashed, our emotional home has been rewarded for only having three rooms instead of ten. We have revelled in its simplicity because there was no space for complicated emotion or existence.
We reward ourselves for not crying, for being ‘strong’, for not showing emotion, for carrying on, and squashing our mental health and emotional needs. We must relearn these coping mechanisms and quickly, as an act of self-care.
In hospital I had a flashback to myself, a gangly kid whose limbs were yet to catch up with her body, falling over, crying and in pain, and my mother standing over me saying “No sympathy, get yourself up”. I never self harmed when I was younger no matter how depressed I was, the only time I attempted to, my mum saw and laughed at my stupidity for hurting myself. I never did it again, but I don’t perceive that as a win. I don’t berate my mother for this response, because when you come from a world which has experienced the worst kind of violence, you forget that it’s the 21st century and microaggressions are a favoured form of racism. Not to mention your child is light skinned and will not forgo your experience. In an obscure kind of loving protection, you prepare them from a young age to go to war, a violent war. How will they cope if they can’t withstand a simple graze to the knee?
However, we are coming out of a time where the only option was toughness, thick skin and resilience. We have to unlearn this time and allow ourselves to flesh out, and become fully realised. We have to draw attention to our pain in a way that is vulnerable, and praise it, because guess what? We’re worth it, we deserve it and we are ready for it.
About the Author
India Jaggon is a queer writer and erotic artist living in London. She explores topics surrounding intimacy, intersections and erotica.
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