If you pass me on the street, stand behind me in line at the grocery store or see pictures of me at family gatherings, there are hardly ever visible signs of the battle I am fighting (short of my staple black hat and sunnies, but that could easily be assumed to be just an act of #fashun ). At first glance, you might assume that I have a wide social network, love to workout and am climbing the ladder in a profession that I am passionate about.
My magic trick is that I can present well, almost too well, despite how I truly feel. Like any good magician, my trick leaves others wondering, “…but, how?…”. I have perfected this trick so well that most of the time, I can make my pain truly invisible. The amount of time I can keep my trick going depends on how intense the pain is. But even at my very, very worst, I’ve found that I consistently present better than I actually feel.
While a storm of physical and emotional symptoms rage inside of me, I am capable of appearing calm, collected and relaxed. Through immense pain, I can slap a smile across my face and small talk with you about the weather or upcoming holiday plans. When I am terrified in the emergency department, I’ll joke with the nurses and find a way to dampen the searing pain I’m experiencing. At group dinners, I can laugh and nod along, only tightly closing my eyes with my head in my hands when I’ve managed to sneak away to the bathroom for a few minutes. Even just last week, I had an in-home infusion, and kept it together for the entire time the doctor was in my living room, only to crumble into tears due to head pain within seconds of him walking out the door.
My banter and facade often do not align at all with what’s going on internally for me. I can present as effortlessly confident and enjoying myself when that is the farthest thing from the truth of what is happening on the inside.
My magic trick hides from others the sharp stabbing pain I might be feeling behind my right eye. It keeps secret the voice in my head that is wondering whether others can see me squinting my eyes because of the pain. This trick masks how difficult it is for me to engage in conversation, how much I am struggling to follow what you are saying. Behind the curtain of looking put together, I am often struggling when I’m with others, tediously weighing how far I have pushed my physical limit and when I need to end the interaction.
This magic trick, playing at being well, is a double edged sword. Some days I’m filled with gratitude for the ability to present as a “normie” and not air my struggles when I don’t want to. But, it can also be confusing as all hell. It makes it difficult for me to be fully transparent with physicians, professionals and even my friends and family. I use this magic trick almost daily, for different reasons and in different scenarios, and sometimes I do it so well that I begin to fool even myself.
I said in one of my instagram posts this week that as challenging as living with chronic invisible illness can be, it can also be a gift. For me, some days, this magic trick of being able hide my pain and blend in, to appear just like everybody else, feels immensely comforting. To even for just a moment, step out of the world of chronic illness I spend so much time in, and pretend that their norm is my norm. I’ve perfected my magic trick so well that without giving a voice to my struggle, people can hardly tell that something is even wrong.
This magic trick is also kind of a super power. Not one that anyone would wish for, but one that makes you so so very strong. It takes strength that nobody sees, courage you have to muster up from deep within you and a commitment to choosing to love your life more than you hate your pain. I know that there are so many invisible illness magicians out there who use this trick daily. I see you, I know how hard you are trying and I am so proud of you.
I share each step along my road to wellness and healing and hope that in doing so I can inspire you along your own path. Thank you so much for being here.