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How Chronic Illness Warriors Are ‘Masters of Masks’

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There’s something to be said about those who deal with invisible illnesses — they are masters of masks. Now, before you think that’s a negative label or not a sincere compliment, let me explain.

Before my own health took a sudden turn, I admit I didn’t understand the full magnitude or impact an invisible illness can have on someone and those around them, or their individual quality of life. The shift in my perspective has drastically changed because I feel like I’m on the other side now, since I’m still anxiously waiting to try and discover my own health diagnosis after only a few months — at times, it takes people years to uncover a true diagnosis or find a successful treatment/management plan. During this time, I have been fortunate enough to not only connect with others who are living with invisible illnesses but to truly understand them by going through one myself.

The one thing that stands out to me the most with this strong group of people is their willingness to put on a mask, sometimes every day.

And by a mask, I mean their consideration to others and those around them, whether it’s family, friends, co-workers or others. They will put on a brave face, day after day, and will do everything they can to hide their chronic pain/symptoms from others, for various reasons. The reasons may range from not wanting to sound like a broken record who’s always complaining of pain or they simply don’t want to deal with the questions when symptoms suddenly hit. That’s hard to do, day after day, month after month, year after year, but that’s what they do. I find myself falling into the same habit.

There are times I find my own mask slipping off and its nerve-racking, especially if you happen to be talking to someone. You don’t want them to automatically jump to the conclusion you’re depressed, have lost your mindset of trying to stay positive or have given up on anything. Would we be misunderstood if we showed our tears? Would I be misunderstood if I showed you my tears of sheer frustration over waiting for answers that never seem to come, test after test? Would I be misunderstood because of my tears of pain that do not ease up, even when I try pain relievers, along with my tears of worry and what-if scenarios that play through my mind all the time, throughout the day?

Today was one of those days.

My mask accidentally slipped off because my head hurt so badly. Unfortunately, neither pain medication nor heated flax bag can ease the pain, which in turn gets me thinking about all my symptoms and question why my body has felt so off, even after all this time. Why hasn’t it bounced back yet? Why do I look “normal” outside but feel so awful on the inside? And why haven’t we found anything that can explain all this yet?

This mysterious illness already knows how to get the best of me, and I’m sure your own illness knows how to get to you. I cannot seem to find any triggers or explain why my symptoms occur. They do not properly align with just one thing. I’m starting to forget how my health felt before all of this even happened. All of that said, it sounds terrible because it is terrible, the unknown is always scary and causes some sort of fear, but you must know how to rise against it and that varies from person to person.

My mask slipped off today and you know what? That’s OK. And I’m OK with it. I don’t mind that it does, and honestly, I would be more concerned if it didn’t slip off occasionally.

And that’s what I want all you warriors to know — it’s OK to let your mask slip! You don’t need to worry about feeling embarrassed or ashamed. You can give yourself a bad day because you fight so hard to make it look like you’re having tolerable or great days, every day.

As I sit here and finish my herbal tea, I invite each of you to take a deep breath and let your mask slip off — let all the things you hold deep inside release and breathe. It might hurt now, but after you get it all out, you may feel a strange sense of relief and calm. Sometimes, it helps to write down your thoughts during this time to simply get them out, especially if you prefer to let your mask slip in private or fear that your words will be judged or taken the wrong way.

Bottom line: don’t ever feel weak when your mask slips off. It is your defining moment and empowers you to make it through, regardless of what lies ahead for all us, masters of masks.

Photo by Kyle Sudu on Unsplash

Originally published: February 18, 2019
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