Maybe that’s you up there, sitting in a cafe, soaking up the few minutes of solitude until the old friend you’ve met for coffee returns from the bathroom. You barely slept last night, you’re exhausted, and your body hurts — but you’d never tell your friend those things. You don’t want to be known as the girl who always cancels plans.
Instead, you did your hair, and you put on makeup. You covered up the dark bags under your eyes — an art you’ve now perfected. And you manage to float through your hour-long coffee date, never even letting on that you’re sick.
It’s because you’ve chosen to wear the mask that says “everything is fine.”
If you struggle with chronic illness — whether that’s a mental health condition, chronic pain or fatigue, or an autoimmune disease, among others — I’m sure you’ve grown familiar with situations just like this. I certainly have.
Yet, I can’t help but ask myself — why do we feel so compelled to keep putting up this facade, one that keeps us hiding from our colleagues, our friends, and even our own family?
WATCH: Chronic Pain: Explained. Post continues after video.
Here are three reasons why we likely keep on masking our disease:
1. Many chronic illnesses are misunderstood and not socially accepted.
Perhaps, you have opened up before about your depression, your anxiety, your fibromyalgia, or your chronic fatigue syndrome to those around you. And the odds are fair that you’ve gotten plenty of disheartening responses.
“Oh yeah, I’ve been stressed lately, too.”
“I’ve heard that’s not a real disease.”
“Oh, I had that once! I just took more naps.”
For many of these chronic disorders of mental and physical health, society continues to feed us the message that they aren’t real conditions. That we’re not really sick. And this has cultivated a deep, real fear in us that our diseases will always stir up misunderstanding and opposition. So, instead of take the risk, we hide them.
2. We’re scared of personal judgment.
Not only are we afraid others will misjudge our health conditions, but we’re also terrified they’ll judge us. We’re afraid they’ll equate our chronic pain with complaining too much. We’re worried they’ll blame our depression on not getting out of the house. We expect them to attribute our fatigue to being lazy, or too little sleep.
We’re also scared they’ll look at the drastic measures we might have to take to care for ourselves — controversial medications, radical dietary changes, or alternative therapies — and think we’re overreacting. Rather than go there, we pick up the mask, sparing ourselves the personal judgment we fear.