I have worn that proverbial mask for the last almost three years and it wasn't until I recently made the decision to seek professional help for the depression and anxiety that the mask truly came off. Now I find that I am incapable of putting it back on.....the flood gates have been opened, so to speak....and although it is still difficult to allow others into my new world as a sick person, I also find it oddly liberating to no longer hold everything inside! I am sure most people would rather we keep the masks on and continue faking normalicy, but that is not a realistic expectation. We can't "fake it" forever.
Someone asked me the other day, "What is it like to be sick and no one can tell?" Well, quite frankly, it sucks! I think that if you asked anyone with an invisible illness that question they would say the same. The biggest hurdle I have found, so far, is getting people to believe you! The issue is that most of the time we all look fine, and some days we even feel fine, but then there are the horrible days where we feel as though we're dying but still "look fine" to the outside world. Those days where you got no sleep, can barely get off the couch and every move you make causes you to feel like you've been hit by a Mack truck.....yet, if you looked at us, we'd look exactly the same as we do on a good day! I know that in my own experience there are some days where I will hobble into the bathroom and fully expect to see a shriveled old woman, hunched over in unbearable pain staring back at me from the mirror.....yet all I see is me. Maybe looking a little extra tired but otherwise it's just plain old me. It's in those moments that I understand why it is so difficult for non-sufferers to wrap their heads around our illnesses. I understand why it's so difficult for our families to accept that we are sick when we don't look sick. (There's an absolutely amazing website that everyone who suffers from invisible illness should see and loved ones of the sick NEED to see at www.butyoudontlooksick.com! I swear this woman crawled inside my head and said everything I haven't been able to convey!) This is when I think that the "mask" may be more harmful than helpful! We put on this mask so that others just see the "old" you, the healthy you, the happy you......and the reality of the situation is that we will never be those people again! The "old" us is dead and buried.....it's a sad truth but a truth nonetheless! I will never be the same, I will never be able to do the things I once did, I will never be able to accomplish many of the goals I had set for myself when I was healthy.......Yes, sometimes that is a hard pill to swallow but swallow it I must because I finally figured out that until I can truly accept what is happening to me, how in the Hell can I expect anyone else to accept it!?! Until I understand the "new" me, how can expect understanding from others?!? There's a new commercial making the rounds on TV about Lupus specifically and, ironically, it talks about patients wearing a mask to hide their symptoms (even from their Dr). Then it says to take off that mask and be honest about how you feel. I didn't realize how right that commercial was until today when I read my friends posts.
Don't be afraid of your new normal! Don't hide how you are feeling out of fear of what others might think or feel! You don't have to wear a "mask" and suffer alone, because there are many of us that suffer from these horrific diseases and we need to support eachother! We need to stop hiding, we need to stop worrying about how other people might perceive us, we need to come together and help eachother deal with whatever comes next!
I know it may sound cliched, and to some it may sound pessimistic, but in our cases I think that the old adage takes on a whole new and supportive meaning.............Misery Loves Company!