Lately, I haven’t felt the greatest. My fatigue is more prominent, I’m having severe joint pain that makes it difficult to walk, and it’s making it hard to get things done. All of these things make me feel lazy and useless, even when I know I’m not. I know it’s just my MS giving me a run for my money. Yet, whenever someone sees me, they tell me how good I look. Most in the MS community know that as someone with an invisible illness, that is one of the most frustrating comments you can get. People mean well, but they have no idea the mask we’ve put on just to look so “great”.
Putting on a brave face
The other day I was walking (more like waddling in pain) with my mom, and as we approached, the door people I hadn’t seen in a while commented on how good I looked. Don’t get me wrong, it always feels nice to get compliments, but little did these people know how exhausting it had been to get up and get ready that morning. Little did they know that before I got to the door to go inside, I told my mom that I had to put on my brave face and pretend like it didn't hurt to walk. I’m not even sure why I told her that; I just knew that I’m so used to others thinking that I look fine that I didn’t know how they would react seeing me on a particularly bad day.
People don't see the effort needed to look okay
People don’t see what it took to get ready that day. They don’t see how hard it was to put on that full face of makeup and how I had to sit on the bed just to put on my shorts. They don’t realize that behind the mask of looking good comes so much effort and many choice words. Remarks about how we look can be difficult. On the one hand, you feel great to know people think you look good, but on the other hand, it’s hard to swallow when you know how you look on the outside and how you feel on the inside don’t match.
Invisible symptoms with MS: Looks can be misleading
I am thankful that I can go out without people realizing I’m having a typically bad day physically, but I hate the feeling that my looks may be misleading. I want people to know that despite this illness, I have a lot of good days, but I also don’t want to lie about the fact that I have bad days, too. We all do. It’s hard to know how to look fine on the outside but also let people know that realistically, I’m not always fine. There are many days when I am struggling and in pain, but most days doing what I love and being out and about with my loved ones trumps all. It’s not like we intentionally hide how we feel either; it’s just sometimes easier to keep pretending than to take the time and let others in on whatever it is you’re facing that day.
Encouraging others with invisible illnesses
We don’t have to hide around others with invisible illness though. It is a community of people who know exactly what that feels like. Invisible illness is so misunderstood and not talked about nearly enough. I know there are many others out there who know what it’s like to feel like they are wearing a mask, too. That is why it is important that as a community, we continue to advocate, educate, but mostly encourage one another.
Genuine, heartfelt encouragement is a gift. It’s not just a gift we receive, but it’s the gift that we can give to each other. It sounds cheesy, but it truly is the gift that keeps giving when it's done in a genuine manner. This is something we can all do. We all wear our masks. It may not be MS, it may be something entirely different. But, I do know we all put on a brave face from time to time. So, let's be there for each other. It’s difficult enough being told you look great when you feel like you’re dying inside. Be there for someone today, and know you’re not alone.
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