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30 Ways People Hide Their Chronic Illness

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There is absolutely no reason to be ashamed of having a chronic illness. That being said, living with a chronic condition is complex, and it can affect your life in a number of different ways. And sometimes, for better or worse, you may find yourself hiding certain aspects of your illness from those around you. Maybe you downplay your symptoms so loved ones don’t worry as much, or try to appear “normal” to avoid awkward or overly personal conversations. Hiding can even become a sort of coping mechanism for dealing with flare-ups or the really tough days.

Although many of us may hide parts of our illnesses away from the world, it can mean so much when someone sees past the facade, the forced smiles, the “I’m fine!”s and asks, “How are you really?” We asked our Mighty community to share some of the ways they hide their chronic illnesses in order to shed some light on what these masks can look like. If you have a friend or loved one who is chronically ill and notice them doing some of the following, reach out a hand. They may or may not feel up to talking, but letting them know you genuinely care, will listen without judgment and want to be there for them through the ups and the downs in their life might mean a lot.

Here’s what the community shared with us:

1. “I hide mine via humor. I like to make people laugh. Sometimes I can barely function, but makeup and a good sense of humor can do wonders. It’s a forced way to live. It takes every ounce of whatever you’ve got to push through sometimes. Some people don’t even know I’m about ready to break down because I try to smile and am always a joker.”

2. “If I’m having a bad flare-up (adrenal insufficiency/panhypopituitarism), I tend to just stay home and avoid being in social situations where my brain fog might make things awkward for me.”

3. “I go to work no matter what. I always keep a brave face even when I want to cry and scream in pain.”

4. “Subtle uses of equipment, e.g. a walking stick that folds so I can use it when [I’m] most at risk and near misses of falls, and put it in my bag when doing things I’m less likely to have problems with.”

5. “I hide my illness usually by trying to smile. It’s hard sometimes when I’m bedridden and my 4-year-old son wants to play. He comes in bed with me and I play with his toys as I lay there with a smile. Sometimes all you can do is put on a fake smile.”

6. “I take lots of medication and use caffeine to help me function whenever I leave the house. It means I can pass for normal/healthy.”

7. “I force myself to be fine when I’m not. My body or my emotions might be telling me to stop doing something so I can rest, but I’ll ignore it and pretend it’s fine because I don’t want people to see how much rest I need. I just prepare myself for the crash later on when nobody is around.”

8. “I totally isolate myself. It’s easier than explaining for the 100th time why I am canceling or can’t keep up. I’ve lost pretty much all my friends because of it which really sucks, but it’s hard to find someone close to my age (20) who understands.”

9. “When people ask how I am, I never tell them how I really am. People don’t want to know the real truth of someone who is chronically ill. When you tell the truth most people are incredibly uncomfortable and don’t know what to say. I now always reply with ‘good.’”

10. “I push myself to work hard (probably harder than my coworkers) just to avoid suspicion that I’m not functioning at even 70 percent.”

11. “Makeup. I use it to cover bruising I get from chronic swelling. I also style my hair to cover swelling as well.”

12. “I wear long sleeves and pants when weather permits. I have so many scars on my veins from the amount of blood taken, scars from cuts that couldn’t heal properly and I still bruise very easily.”

13. “I put on a smile and force myself through the pain. When my mask is slipping I hide somewhere until I can regain my composure. I mostly did this at work, I don’t feel like I need to hide my illness at home.”

14. “Walking into the bathroom when the muscle spasms and cramps get bad so no one can see it happening.”

15. “I wear makeup and dress up nicely whenever I go out when I can on my good days. I don’t necessarily hide my illness but I refuse to let myself look defeated from it. It can have me but it can’t take the fight out of me.”

16. “I overcompensate at times and chat too much, but it’s because I’m scared of my illnesses showing.”

17. “I have IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). Growing up I was ashamed, you know, because ‘girls don’t poop or fart.’ I would hide my illness from past boyfriends. I would hold everything in because if I was in the bathroom too long then he’d know I was pooping and I would hold in all the gas because I wouldn’t want to gross him out. This made me even more sick. I’m now engaged to a man who completely understands because his mother has Crohn’s. He makes me feel comfortable in letting him know when I’m having a flare-up.”

18. “[I] make up stories for my illness, like I have the flu or a cold or walked into something, when really my fibromyalgia has completely spun out [of] control.”

19. “I don’t let anyone too close. I don’t want them to see how bad it really is.”

20. “I tend to mask my pain level. I play off how bad it is sometimes too well. So well that I underestimate what my pain actually is at times. It almost becomes a game, where as long as I’m breathing it must not be all that bad. Even when it is.”

21. “I take my meds in the bathroom or when I know no one else is around. If it’s a bad enough day for me to need a mobility aid I don’t go out. I don’t gear my service dog if I don’t have to. There are lots of ways to hide a bad day.”

22. “I will do everything I can to keep myself busy so people don’t notice. Go for walks, clean something, reorganize something, listen to music or be anti-social. I know some things could make me hurt worse, but it makes me think others won’t see I’m in pain, even if I know it’s noticeable.”

23. “[I] make up excuses as to why I’m unwell [and] blame it on other things so I don’t have to explain it’s a chronic disease. I don’t want to go into it with everyone.”

24. “I wear baggy clothes to hide bloating from gastrointestinal disorders caused by POTS. I also wear pants to hide compression socks.”

25. “I often pretend that whatever is hurting isn’t. I will walk as normally as possible while having extreme leg or foot pain. I will cause myself horrible pain just to appear ‘normal.’”

26. “One way I hide my illness is by smiling. Someone asks how I am doing and I tell them, ‘Just trying to make every day count,’ and smile. ‘Are you doing alright?’ ‘Better than ever,’ and smile. No one really questions you and tries to get more information out of you if you smile.”

27. “I choose not to leave the house on my worst days, so people rarely get to see the side of me when I don’t have the energy to look put together. On days where I am feeling a little more motivated, I do my make-up to hide my tired eyes and the fact that my lips are colorless from vitamin deficiency. First thing I always hear is ‘You look so much better!’ and my response is, ‘Yeah, makeup is a miracle worker like that!’”

28. “I do not hide my illness, but I do hide how it has made me feel emotionally. I’ve cried a lot of tears behind closed doors. I keep the information I share basic because I do not want to be seen as an attention-seeker.”

29. “I rarely tell people how I am actually feeling. In a group of people I ignore warning signs and over-extend myself to fit in.”

30. “I don’t hide my illness; there is no reason to. I am who I am. I never chose to be chronically ill. Hiding your illness just contributes to the stigmas surrounding invisible and chronic illness. I am a firm believer that we need to be more vocal and show our illnesses any way we can in order to humanize and normalize chronic illnesses.”

30 Ways People Hide Their Chronic Illness
Originally published: June 28, 2017
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