Recently, a friend and fellow chronically fabulous writer, used his social media to share some thoughts on mental health. He stressed the need for openness on this topic, especially from those of us living with a chronic illness. It was a powerful post.
People with chronic illnesses can easily be cast as beacons of inspiration. Statements like “You’re so brave” or “You inspire me so much” make us feel we have to conceal our bad days by channeling a positive vibe. There is an almost palpable pressure to present ourselves in a constantly uplifting way.
Personally, while I don’t favor forced positivism, I am guilty of hiding what goes on inside my head. In fact, I used to believe I was quite honest and upfront about my emotions. That changed when, in the space of a few days, three different friends informed me I was quite the opposite.
For the past two weeks, if you’d seen me online or in person, you would have witnessed me smiling, functioning like everyone else, even cracking jokes. I strive to channel “happy vibes” on my Instagram. I share how I am training to run a marathon, portray periods and bad bodily functions as hilariously ironic, and project the idea that a fulfilling life with endometriosis is possible. But really, under the surface, there’s so much more.
When it comes to my illness, I am on a form of treatment that suppresses my periods. It really shouldn’t even be called “treatment,” because treat, it doesn’t. It merely puts symptoms on hold, while inside, adhesions may grow and my ovaries continue to produce problematic polyps. I am not even remotely cured. I am chemically maintaining a facade of good physical health.
There’s a similar sort of illusion when it comes to my mental health.
As soon as I disconnect from social media or close the door to my flat, it’s just me. I don’t tell others about the fact that, for the past weeks, my marathon training has fallen by the wayside while I’ve fought the urge to go back to bed, failing many times. No one sees me without any makeup or with unwashed hair, rescheduling appointments with my therapist because I can’t face talking. I am masterfully hiding how broken I feel.
I have dreams — and almost immediately dismiss them when I remember how my chronic illness will sabotage any plans. I am often fighting the idea that I am someone who needs constant care, jealous of those without chronic diseases. As of late, hanging out with people and their babies has become heartbreaking. I hold back the tears and congratulate them on their gorgeous child.
It feels like I’m sinking, all by myself, while my dogs keep me minimally functioning. I feed and walk them, but I forget to feed or care for myself. Some days, I don’t want to carry on. I really don’t.
So here it is. This is where my mind and my emotions are right now, uncut and available to all. Sharing this doesn’t make me feel empowered, it makes me want to hide even more.
Yet, my mental health struggles are part of my life with endometriosis.
The good news is that I find ways to function through it all, whether it’s leaning on the fact that my dogs need me, treating myself to a break somewhere, or holding onto the possibility of another Madonna tour in the near future.
I find a reason and carry on. Just like everyone else, except not quite.
A chronically ill person is not a superhero. We don’t exist to inspire others. We come with flaws that the rest of the world doesn’t have to deal with. And maybe my friends are right, and we do need to talk about this more, to lessen our own frustrations and shake off the pressure to function “normally.” Because our chronically challenged lives involve a different sort of normal.
Note: Endometriosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Endometriosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to endometriosis.