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The Health Struggles Hidden Behind My Smile

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Going out in public is part of life, being among the hustle and bustle of the world. It can be intriguing to think about how everyone around you is leading a different life. One that is unique to them and only them. You can pass hundreds of people smiling and laughing through life. What are the stories behind the smiles? Are they trying to move on from a difficult day, or are they having one of the best days of their life?

Let’s say you’re sitting in a restaurant. The ladies at the table diagonal from you are laughing and having an amazing time together. You don’t know their reason for their laughter, but you see people who are enjoying life.

What you don’t see is that one of them may have an aching heart from sending her daughter off to college. One may have just experienced a really difficult week, but instead of wallowing in her sorrows, she chose to have a good time with friends. Another could be experiencing a promotion at her dream job and is excited to celebrate.

The man at the other end of the restaurant could be smiling one minute and the next minute arguing with a server.

What you don’t see is that he has a food allergy and was given the wrong food.

My point of all of this is, as much as we believe that what we see is true, we don’t know the whole story.

You see, in this restaurant, there is also a young woman sitting in the back at a table with her mom. While you may see her quietly eating food, you don’t know that she has social anxiety. So much anxiety that even being in that restaurant is so overwhelming she can’t even hold a conversation with her mom.

What you also don’t know is that in a month’s time, this young woman is going to find out news that will change her life.

I am that young woman. One month after sitting in that restaurant I found out I have Lyme disease. I specifically remember that day, the restaurant was so loud and crowded I couldn’t even hear myself think. All I remember is needing to eat quickly and getting out of there as fast as possible.

What I didn’t know at the time is that being hypersensitive to lights and sounds isn’t normal. That being panicked in a crowd of people isn’t normal. That being in pain everyday isn’t normal.

Lyme disease is an invisible illness, which is why I appeared to look like a normal 18 year old. There are people out there who may look normal, but they don’t feel normal. They may deal with dozens of things going on in their mind and body at one time, while all we see the smile.

This journey of dealing with an invisible illness is extremely eye-opening. It changed my perspective. I realized that behind a smile could be a story.

Behind my smile is someone who is always in pain, is dealing with anxiety and depression and a myriad of other symptoms that rotate with each day.

On bad days, one thing I have always appreciated is a smile from a kind stranger. It touches me to know that someone took the time to acknowledge me. In my world it makes such a big difference when someone acknowledges my presence; I am no longer invisible. I am seen.

This invisible illness is not what defines me. I am a writer, an artist and I love to travel. I am someone who wants to make a difference in people’s lives, so I choose to smile. I enjoy smiling at strangers because I know what joy others have brought me, and I could brighten someone else’s day.

Let’s be the kind stranger, see and acknowledge the invisible people all around us, and light up their world with a smile.

Originally published: March 28, 2018
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