We all know the rhyme. I’m sure at some point it was chanted to us all in an attempt to bolster our confidence. To make us feel better. To make us feel strong.
‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’.
It’s such a simple phrase. And, at first glance, so true. Words will leave no physical mark. When spoken, they vanish as quickly as they are formed. When written, they can be ignored, crossed out, or erased entirely.
But of course, physical injury is not the only measure of damage. Words have immense power, and they can leave deep scars of another sort. They can nestle into your mind and repeat, over and over, and they can shape the way you see both yourself and the surrounding world.
Words have power. And so do the people who speak them.
It seems so wrong to place a bully in a position of power. I was always taught that a bully only had as much power as I gave them. I was taught that if I remained unaffected, the person trying to make me miserable could not accomplish their goal. And even if their comments upset me, it was important not to let them know, not to show it, because otherwise it gave them power. Otherwise they’d think they won. Otherwise they did win. And then they would do it again.
I got very good at remaining emotionless at the whispers in the hallway. I got very good at eating my lunch alone without looking over my shoulder.
But I was affected. I cried later. I was hurt.
As time went on, I gradually found my way. I developed friendships, I no longer ate lunch alone. I didn’t have to block out any whispers, I was able to smile in the hallways and crack jokes without worrying about how my words could be twisted against me.
But I never fully escaped from bullies. They took on different forms, a teacher who used authority as catharsis, a competitor who spoke behind my back, and others, plenty of others, weaving in and out of my life, in varying degrees of importance.
There are always those who use harsh words. Always those who thrive off of pain. And sometimes, they succeed. Because words do hurt. They’re too powerful not to.
Tomorrow, I have a doctor’s appointment. And in preparation for that, I have organized my medical history into one binder.
It was a monumental task – the amount of paperwork was astounding. I spent hours buried amidst test results, doctor’s notes, scans, post-it-notes and dividers.
As I read through the notes, I couldn’t help but feel more and more upset.
From a gastroenterologist referring me to a phsychiatrist, to comments on how ‘the patients complaints were inconsistent with her cheerful demeanour,’ to the repeated claim that everything I was experiencing could be explained by, and fixed with weight loss, the words written on paper cut into me.
Seeing a record of symptoms that were often inaccurately recorded and not followed up due to the altogether more likely scenario of an anxiety riddled, obese young woman was incredibly painful.
Because I have now lost over 80 pounds. I am fifteen pounds away from having a healthy BMI. And those very symptoms that were dismissed when I was told to go to therapy and lose weight, have increased to the point where they have become urgent. Where they have landed me at the top of a triage list.
Three years worth of history. A history of being brushed aside due to my age, gender, and size.
It’s incredibly frustrating.
And now, I am gearing myself up for my appointment tomorrow. It’s an important appointment, an appointment to investigate those very symptoms, the ones that have been here all along, but never so obvious. Never so urgent.
And all that I can think of are back up plans. Even though I’ve lost so much weight, I am preparing for a directive to lose more. Even though I feel happy, more settled then I have in years, I am preparing for questions about the various stressors in my life.
I have been going through possible scenarios, trying to reassure myself. I think that even if the doctor is rude, it’s okay, as long as he believes me. And even if he doesn’t believe me, it’s okay, as long as he runs the tests. And even if he won’t run the tests, it’s okay, as long as he examines my medication list. And even if he doesn’t change my medications, it’s okay, because I can always look for another neurologist.
I feel as though I am preparing for battle. Strategizing, gathering my paperwork, and putting on my armour.
And maybe I’m being overly concerned. After all, this doctor examined me in the ER, and asked to see me in his clinic. He chose to follow up with me. Maybe it won’t be that bad. Maybe it will actually be incredibly helpful. Maybe he will have found something in one of my tests, or maybe he has ideas of his own. Maybe he genuinely wants to help me, or at least wants to discover what exactly is going on with my body.
But I have a binder full of words, along with years worth of memories that make me cautious. That put me on my guard.
I have been hurt, over and over again, in a doctor’s office.
And it has affected me, it has changed the way I enter an appointment, it has changed the way I understand medicine. At times, it has even changed the way I see myself.
I had been sitting here for hours, going over my notes, when all of the sudden my phone vibrated.
It was a text message from a friend across the country, completely unprompted, saying ‘good luck tomorrow lady’.
And after hours of tension, I felt a rush of warmth enter my system.
Because words hurt, yes.
They hurt because they have power.
But their power is not limited to pain.
Words can heal, they can build you up, and they can make you so, incredibly happy.
Words can shape you.
They can shape the way you see yourself.
They can shape the way you see the world.
And that can be beautiful.
Words can be beautiful.