When I used to visit my gastroenterologist as a young woman in my 20s, my doctor, who had probably been in practice more than a half-century at that point, would ask me, “So how do you feel underneath your makeup?”
Because he knew.
He knew what I now understand.
When you live with chronic illness you are always wearing a mask.
I think that’s why wearing an actual mask these days doesn’t feel unfamiliar to me.
When you live with chronic illness you wear makeup to your doctor’s office and a nice outfit that you fold into a neat pile after you’ve put on their paper exam gown so it appears you are holding it together when everything is really falling apart.
When you live with chronic illness you cover up your pain with a smile so your kids won’t know and your mom won’t worry.
When you live with chronic illness you hide the medicine bottles so when your friend stops by she won’t catch a glimpse and learn your truth.
When you live with chronic illness you force yourself out of bed in the morning and go to the job, volunteer at the school, run the errand, so the world won’t find out all you really want to do is curl yourself into a ball on the family room sofa.
When you live with chronic illness you lie to your spouse. You tell them it will pass. It’s not that bad. You’ll be better soon. Because you don’t want them to think less of you. And you don’t want to think less of yourself.
When you live with chronic illness you’re always wearing a mask.
But now, perhaps more than ever before, I think people can understand this other sweet truth.
There is nothing more joyous, nothing that brings more bone-deep relief, than being able to lift that mask, breathe in the fresh air, and finally say, “This is me.”