When Health Issues Feel Like Wearing a Superhero Costume

In putting on a superhero costume, you take on a private, hidden role. You take on a weight that most could not even comprehend carrying. Day after day, in plain sight but somehow unseen, you do incredible things quietly and without complaint or acknowledgement. You wear this thing so many people have heard of, but do not fully understand. If you were to wear it out in the open, people would stare at it; it would distract from the person underneath and make people forget the individual they have always known. In wearing a superhero costume, you are forced into a spotlight you never intended to stand in. If you were to revel what you wear beneath your normal clothing, people would label you a freak; they would treat you like an alien because you are different from them and they fear the consequences of the things that set you apart. In films, society does not know how to react to superheroes. In reality, society does now know how to react to the sick.

Once you’ve put on a superhero costume you are duty-bound; lives depend on you, and you have to fight incredibly hard to save them. You’re on-call 24/7, always alert, always waiting to be called away again. You miss social events and birthdays and Christmases. Nobody really understands why. They have no idea of the battles you fight. They see the headlines and the success stories and they think the threat is over. They’ve no idea that the threat is never-ending, that you simply remove it before it becomes large enough to gain their attention, and that the things they see are not success stories, but failings in your attempt to shield them from reality.

When your duties call you away from plans with others, they take it personally. You bail so many times that they stop inviting you to things. When you try to show them the superhero costume you wear in hope that the pieces of the puzzle will fall into place, they struggle to understand that you do all of the things they’ve heard about. You can’t show them the reality you face without putting them in danger and filling them with fear. You don’t look strong enough to fight. They’ve never seen you in such situations, and they politely humor you until the conversation topic moves on. Those that do appreciate what you go through get so used to you fighting and recovering that they lose the fear that you might lose. They forget that every time you fight, there is a chance that you won’t walk away again.

In so many ways, serious or long-term illness is like wearing a superhero costume. You wear it hidden beneath your clothes, beneath your skin, and it forces you into a role that you never intended to take on but are obligated to maintain. It demands things of you that people could not imagine, and forces you to find a strength and resilience in yourself that you otherwise
would not have had reason to discover. You fight threats to your life before they ever become serious enough to be affect those around you. You deal with your health constantly, quietly, and in the absence of emergencies and outwardly obvious symptoms, people assume that there is no longer anything to deal with, that you’re “better” now.

No statues are built in honor of your alter-ego. You are never called away anywhere glamorous, only to a bed — sometimes miles away from home that has wheels and a plastic-coated mattress. You live this double life. You juggle the weight of saving your world with the pressure of maintaining and exploring it. People have no idea of the things you do day-to-day. They mistake your absence for laziness. They think you are simply unreliable, perhaps even that you make a bigger deal of the situation than you need to. Even when you tell them about the reality you deal with, they fail to comprehend the threats you face, they underestimate the severity of your health issues or the impact they have on you because these things are hidden from their view. There is no way to make them understand without spreading the emotion that is associated with illness, and you care too much to do that to them.

Before you could ever have had chance to explain, you are called away. Quietly, after the toughest fight of your life, with the superhero costume of your health issues torn, and fresh wounds raw against the façade you wear in public to cover your individuality, you walk back into normal life. You step back into the only role that people see you occupy. Only the thing that you saved understands the achievement that this is — you, your body. Sometimes the people you care about notice your absence, and sometimes they are so used to it that they remain oblivious.

Only your doctors have any appreciation of how incredible it is that you manage to continue. They know that you wear a suit consisting of many health problems/symptoms swirled together, and they stitch it back together each time it falls apart and your health falters. They never let you take it off, even when you sit crying and trying to tear it from who you are.

You just carry on. You don’t show off or make a big deal of your achievement. You smile to yourself, you button the shirt of normality over the superhero costume of your perceived weakness, and you walk side by side with everyone else until you care called to fight again. You can only hope that the next time isn’t the last, that you still have enough to overcome the things you face.

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