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How I've Developed My Acting Skills Through Battling Illness

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I’ve been dealing with my chronic illness for four years now. In that time I’ve been to countless doctors, been hospitalized six times, had too many tests to remember and gained way too much experience in the inner workings of the medical field. I’ve also learned how to hide my illness like a champ.

I was always good at theater. There are very few things I feel I am actually talented in, but acting is one of those skills. I was cast in several plays in high school and more than once landed the lead role. I don’t say this to brag on myself, but to illustrate that I have become very well-practiced in the art of appearing one way to an audience when I am actually a completely different person.

There are a few people in my life I can be open and honest with but the majority of the people I encounter will receive answers like “I’m doing OK” or “Yes, I’m fine” when they ask about my health. I don’t like to feel like I complain constantly or like I’m nothing more than my illness. I feel that way so much of the time just being in my own head. I don’t enjoy being the sick girl or the one who wears sunglasses way too much or the girl who has to leave early from social outings or has to miss them completely. If I have made it out of my house, I want to live as “normally” as I can.

When I am able to join the rest of society I usually will put on at least some makeup and make my hair presentable so as not to scare small children when I’m in public. I can wake up looking like something from a horror movie and with some eyeliner and concealer, hairspray and a flat iron, I can look like your average 23-year-old. This does not mean I feel well. I can feel like I want to crawl in a hole and die there but you’ll never know it. I can plaster on a smile and choke back the tears (and often the vomit as well) and fight through the day and you will never see a bit of it. I’ve been practicing the role of “healthy” for years. I know the lines by heart.


I took this photo on the way to my cousin’s wedding. I had flown with my family from Indiana to Texas and ridden the few hours from the airport to the town the wedding was held in. I was really excited for him and his lovely bride and was happy to be there, but roughly one hour before I snapped this selfie, I was lying in bed with tears in my eyes wondering how I was going to survive getting dressed, let alone a ceremony and reception. I wondered if anyone would notice if I wasn’t there. I desperately wanted to enjoy the day but the pain was like a demon with a vice grip on me and I couldn’t shake it.

I left the reception early but I at least got to be there and show my support for the newlyweds. That evening I collapsed on the bathroom floor trying to get to the shower and just had to lay there and cry for a while before falling asleep with the water running next to me. I quite literally could not stand anymore. My body had hit its limit and then been pushed beyond. But none of that is visible in this picture. If you asked anyone at that wedding, they would likely say I was my normal, happy self, and thanks to some lipstick and a snazzy dress, I definitely portrayed that character well. Acting has always been a strong suit of mine and being chronically ill has given me more practice than I ever wanted.

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Originally published: January 20, 2017
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