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  • Writer's pictureEmily Brewster

Invisible Wounds: Living in the Midst of Life’s Pain

Story Time: Little Thumb, Big Problems

By Emily Brewster May 23, 2024

thumbs up on a beach

Living in the Midst of Life's Pain:

Many of my clients know that I LOVE a good metaphor. I have a tendency to keep an eye and ear out for good ones when they cross my path, so I can deposit them into my metaphor piggy-bank (see what I did there ;)). So, it’s no surprise that my little mistake last month made for a small but mighty metaphor and I’d love to share it with you.

It was mid afternoon at my grandma’s house. I had just picked up my little one from school and I decided to stop in, like I usually do after a day of seeing client’s or tinkering away on my computer. I felt inspired, mainly by my hunger and a well-timed TikTok video, to make a deliciously crunchy snack of roasted chickpeas. I found my way to the hall pantry and in the back corner where my grandma insisted the cans of chickpeas would be (and they were). I fired up the oven to 425 degrees, grabbed my pan and parchment paper, and mindlessly thumbed through the drawer to find a can opener. 

Over at the sink, I cranked away at the first can and successfully drained and rinsed my awaiting chickpeas. I turned the opener on the second can, and in my well-meaning way of attempting to do too many things at once, my right thumb met the inside of the half-opened can that I so wittingly tried to pry open with one hand. That's when it happened; I was the recipient of a laceration on my right thumb (and of course it was just on top of the crease of the part that bends). Long story, short, I took a quick trip to the local ED (I know, I'm extra) and had the wound cleaned and bandaged up. I even got a nice aluminum splint to help prevent the wound from opening up while it healed. 

So, what does my silly snack-driven mistake have to do with anything? Well, this practically unseen wound to others made such an impact in how I functioned in life over the next week and surprisingly, my frustration in the wake of this little wound became a  gifted teacher to me. This very physical, slight wound provided an opportunity to reflect on how the struggles and unseen aversive experiences of life can impact how one may show up day to day. The invisible wounds that live just below the waterline. 

green first aid kit

The Unexpected Blow:

The moment this cut happened I was grooving to the rhythm of life and carrying on with my day as planned. Cutting my thumb in an extremely inconvenient location was not on my BINGO card for the day. The second it happened, I was hit with a mild flood of panic, not actually any pain, thankfully. With lots of hesitancy to actually see the damage I had done, worried thoughts flurried in my mind(even while trying to have an externally good attitude and demeanor while my daughter was just in the other room). After summoning the courage to actually look at the cut, I realized I probably needed to apply pressure and figure out a plan to get it looked at.

How often have inconvenient and painful life events caught you off guard? I find that most of the time they are usually unexpected moments AND their unanticipated nature can be why these events can be so jarring and disorienting. A quick second can derail our plans, dash our hopes, and put us in a vulnerable spot to figure out the next moments or days. Can you recall times where a life event or sudden pain pulled the rug from under you? What were those first moments like when life delivered the blow? 

The Unseen Struggle:

Like most small kitchen injuries, my thumb cut was pretty inconspicuous and not a serious injury. By all appearances and realistically, I looked like my everyday self and nothing was seriously wrong with me. While at the ED, they used this cool syringe to flush saline into the wound to clean it, so as to heal without complication (unless chickpea juice is a magical, undiscovered healing agent). I’ll admit, it really hurt, but what a small, necessary step it was in the process of recovering.

open hands

When these hurts happen, whether physical or emotional, giving proper attention can be painful, but necessary. We may have to stop what’s going on around in life to deal with the ailing, hurting parts. To forgo the painful, but essential attention (be it debriding a wound or tending to our heartache), we may find ourselves faced with further complications that prolong our pain and create suffering. And often, this painful part can go unseen and undetected by those around us. The wound may be small or not visible at all to others, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t pack a punch. 

The Limitations Imposed:

full laundry basket

Being how small, yet deep this cut was, I was shocked by how annoyingly painful it was for the days to follow. After a deep cleaning of the area, I was given instructions to sport a wrap and an aluminum split, so that the skin could recover naturally and avoid breaking open with normal bending. I found most of my daily tasks to be impacted by this inconvenient injury. Moving laundry baskets, doing dishes, washing my hair, typing my clinical notes, styling my daughter’s hair before school, and even trying to prepare meals was frustratingly challenging and moderately painful. You name it; my thumb made regular life annoying and painful. I found myself needing to ask for help for some of the smallest tasks and I even found my mood to be pretty crummy at times. I noticed I was much more tired by the day's end and seemingly less resilient in the face of regular life events. I had moments of frustration, irritation and at times thought “why me?” 

And how reminiscent is this to other life challenges? When life hits, our bandwidth to respond as usual can be totally stretched and tested. Fuses get shorter, energy depletes, and asking for help can activate those old tapes that sound like “I must be a burden” or “it’s weak to ask for help.” We may even question why these things may happen and may even see it as a punishment of some sort. Yet somehow, as time passes, we learn to adapt and adjust to these pains and make new meaning around them. We learn to carry and shimmy the laundry basket in creative ways, accept that life might be a little messy for a few days, or begin to allow our trusted supports to nurture and care for us in our moments of need. 

cozy window

TLC in times of need:

After a few days, I finally graduated to regular band-aids (well, ones with cute dog’s all over them, so not basic), instead of the bulky splint. I felt like my thumb could finally breathe, but it was certainly still tender and healing. My routine was still slightly impacted, but I was slowly getting back to business as usual. I made sure to clean it with a saline rinse, top it with bacitracin ointment, and change the bandage regularly to keep it clean and happy. Even two weeks later, my thumb still hurts if I bump it or bend it a certain way, but it doesn’t ruin my day or sideline me. 

This is the part that got me thinking: this small cut required some attention and care to recover nicely and relatively quickly. I am sure I could have been less mindful and it still would have healed eventually, but tending to this injury helped reduce suffering, infection, and unexpected reopening of the cut. It didn’t take the pain away, but it helped me to experience the pain as it was and not add to the experience. The physical act of caring for this hurt became this reminder and symbol to compassionately care for my unseen or invisible hurts. They may be undetectable to others, but meeting oneself with compassion and care can help us to recover efficiently and let the healing happen naturally (with a little help and care of course). 

May your hurts been seen and held by natures healing balm of

time, care, and compassion.

emily brewster

Emily Brewster, MSW, LICSW, MHP

Emily Brewster is the founder, owner, & therapist at Light of the Moon Counseling, PLLC. Emily offers individual mental health therapy services via telehealth to adults dealing with PTSD, depression, anxiety, OCD, and grief and loss. She is a US Army Veteran and is passionate about educating others about mental health and effective strategies to find relief.

light of the moon counseling


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