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Why Anxiety Made Me Hide My Chronic Illness From My Friends

It’s a Wednesday night, and I am sitting at a crowded table in a packed restaurant. Since it’s karaoke night, a man sings an old rock song loudly and slightly off-key behind us as we talk and eat appetizers and desserts. Feeling quite happy, I indulge in my chicken tenders and fries and listen in on the conversation taking place. After I finish eating, I sit back and sip my lemonade as another person takes the stage. Despite my pleasant mood, though, I feel a sharp pain. Not again, I think. Not tonight.

Quickly, I walk to the bathroom and try to regain my breath standing in the stall. It takes me a second to make a game plan about how I am going to get home to deal with the flare-up that has decided to appear tonight. Returning to my seat at the table, I try to hide the enormous amount of pain I am in, swallowing my prescription pills discreetly at the table. As fast as I can, I pay my bill and make a beeline for the door, mumbling something to my friends about how I have a class in the morning and need to go.

Much like that night while out with my friends, I have repeatedly tried to hide my chronic illness from others in fear that they will react negatively or become uncomfortable. Although it gets in the way more often than not, my health struggles are ones that I have kept tightly packed away within myself, only unraveling when I allow them too. Over the years, my anxiety related to my chronic illness and my attempt to keep its repercussions a secret from many people in my life has contributed to additional physical symptoms as well as to fear of another disastrous flare. Looking back, my illness-related anxiety has hurt me more than my actual illness as a result of my reluctance to share what I was going through with other people.

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Now, as I reflect on my life during these past few years, I sincerely regret the hiding and avoidance I have tricked myself into believing was necessary. I have learned that I do not need to outwardly pretend like everything is OK when it is not. I do not have to prioritize other people’s comfort over the discomfort I am feeling. Although it may be difficult at first to be so open with others after suffering in silence for so long, I know that the effects will be unbelievably positive.

We cannot expect our friends and family to understand what we are enduring if we do not tell them. What we are feeling, including the anxiety we might harbor related to our illnesses, is entirely valid despite what others might say. I know that sharing my struggles with those I love will alleviate the mental pressure that I felt to hide and to pretend that chronic illness was not a part of my life when it was, arguably, one of the most influential factors in the person I have grown up to be. As a person with a chronic illness, I deserve to be my authentic self, even when it is difficult, and the people I love deserve to know me as I really am, chronic illness and all.

Photo by Fin MacBrayne on Unsplash