"So, how are you?"
It's a question that used to be so simple and easy to answer. These days it creates a daily dilemma- do I answer honestly, or do I hide all traces of truth?
Mostly I hide behind the mask of "I'm fine", for I am the master of disguise. Because I look well I can do away with risking disclosure; I can have a whole room full of people fooled that I represent the epitome of "healthy".
I can doll myself up, whip on some lippy, dress my lashes with mascara; go to a party and leave with people thinking I live a life of glitz and glamour. I can fake fabulous when it couldn't be further from the truth. I'm like a well seasoned actress- I adapt despite pain and play the part of being pain-free.
Besides, I don't think "I'm sh**, thank you" is the best way to go about make new friends.
"Hi, I'm feeling quite terrible today. I live with multiple chronic illnesses. I'm always tired and in pain and most days are a struggle. I take an awful amount of pills and I'm unable to work. I live with limitations which impose on my right of living a relatively normal life. Let's be friends!"
Yeah doesn't go down too well, does it?
Being truthful about how I am really feeling means I am opening myself up to judgement, assumption and risk having a persons perception of who I am altered.
"You look great!" is the last thing I want to hear when I feel fatigued and am in profound pain. It is contrary to a compliment. It's the old adage, "You look well, so what is your problem?"
Little do they know that because I feel awful on the inside, I don't feel beautiful at all. They don't know that I haven't felt pretty in years. They don't understand that illness doesn't discriminate. Just because I am beautiful doesn't mean that I am not in pain, that my illness isn't real; that suffering doesn't exist.
I don't look "sick" so people don't see what is going on inside of me. They don't know the real truth. They don't understand the daily battles I fight, they don't know that I feel terrible on the inside. They don't know that I hurt every single minute of every day.
They don't know the strength that it takes to hide behind a mask, smile sweetly and say "I'm good, thank you" when I would rather be at home curled up in bed. They don't see the truth. They don't see me without my mask, and that's the way I like it.
It's easier to conceal my condition than it is to deal with insensitive comments. I don't want to answer intrusive questions, I don't want my identity stolen from the stigma of being "sick". I don't want to be seen as a chronic complainer, I don't want pity and I sure as anything don't want assumptions made and have others talk about me behind my back.
Because I look well, I am hesitant to tell the truth.
Because I look well, people can't fully comprehend my situation.
Because I look well, compassion is sometimes wavered.
Because I look well, explaining and justifying why I'm not able to do something is an unrewarding struggle.
Because I look well, who I tell the truth to needs to be carefully considered.
If I choose to be open about about my illnesses, how I'm handling them and how I'm feeling; it means I trust you, a lot. It doesn't mean I want you to pour out pity- it means that I am willing to let you into my life. It means that I am inviting you be involved- to care, support and help me. It means that I trust you with the information I share.
It means that I have faith that despite seeing me without my mask and in face of knowing the truth, you'll understand that my illnesses don't define who I am. You'll know that I am not my pain, my identity is not illness.
Essay written by Emily Ruth © chronicallycreative.net, 2011
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