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What I Hope COVID-19 Will Teach Us About Smiling Through Pain

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I think the thing all of us are most looking forward to after social distancing ends is seeing our family and friends in person again.

I bet you will have a big smile on your face the moment you reconnect with those you love.

Now imagine they saw you smiling and assumed that quarantine was easy for you and that you were not impacted by anything that happened. Meanwhile, maybe you lost your job, dealt with ongoing stress as you worried about sick loved ones, tried to learn how to homeschool scared and confused kids, or went through any other number of things during this turbulent and uncertain time.

That’s a little bit what it’s like when people with chronic and invisible health conditions or disabilities go out in public, and people assume we are “not that sick.”

Remember how excited you are for the end of quarantine the next time you see someone with an invisible illness out in public.

Of course we are smiling and look happy! We get to see people again! But just because we’re out in public doesn’t mean we’re healthy or faking our illness.

Many of us have a lot of experience with isolation and trying to stay connected from a distance. Quarantine has given more people a window into that world.

It’s not unusual for me to go one to three weeks without seeing any friends or family (other than those I live with). This has been fairly typical over the last three years due to my illnesses, including dysautonomia, fibromyalgia, thyroid cancer, and ME/CFS. To some extent, I’ve also experienced this type of isolation throughout my life when my health conditions have flared up. Being homebound or bedbound is the reality for many people with chronic illness. I’m very fortunate that I’m able to get out, and I celebrate the weeks I’m able to be around friends two or even three times. That’s huge when you’re chronically ill!

Think about it… think about how excited you are to see people after two months. Think about how much more excitement you would feel if you went months or years living with uncertainty, wondering when you would see friends again.

Just because you’re smiling doesn’t mean what you’ve experienced isn’t real. Just because you’re happy to be around people doesn’t mean everything is all right. A smile can hide a lot of pain and suffering.

Remember, not all disabilities are visible.

Remember, you also can’t see “behind the scenes” — how much it takes for someone who is chronically ill to make it out in public or the toll it takes afterward. The joy we feel when reconnecting can so easily be dampened by fear of judgment or the assumption that just because we’re smiling, we must be “faking” being sick.

I hope this example from quarantine helps people remember that smiling doesn’t equal “not sick,” and out of the house doesn’t equal “faking it.”

Showing understanding and believing those you love with chronic illness is the perfect way to show them how much you care and have missed them!

For more on the coronavirus, check out the following stories from our community:

Getty image by Ridofranz.

Originally published: June 1, 2020
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