"Where there is creativity, there is hope." ~ Donna Karan

The Truth Behind The Mask

by - Friday, September 16, 2011

"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?"

You see, living with an invisible illness is so much more than dealing with physical symptoms and feeling entangled by emotions; it's a social struggle. Often in our visually orientated society "invisible" conditions are overlooked and even belittled because people don't take the time to stop and look beyond appearances without judgement.

I've had many reactions when I have been brave and have mustered up the courage; ripping off my mask. I have witnessed doubt and disbelief wash over faces. I have been subjected to pure shock when people believe that I look too good to be sick. I have been told that I am too beautiful and pretty to be sick.

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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