Lately, I have been working on developing my make-up skills. I am learning the secrets of bronzer, lip color, and the art of eye make-up. I think that this is because I have been desperately trying harder and harder to not appear as sick as I feel. I know people who feel frustrated when they hear “But you don’t look sick.” When I hear people say this statement to me, I think to myself smugly, “Good, I’ve been working hard to achieve this goal. I better not look sick.”
I have been putting entirely too much effort into disguising my illness. In fact, the irony of it all is that I have been pouring almost all of my sorely limited energy into disguising my illness. I work so diligently on hair, fashion, and make-up that I end up collapsing in bed because I used up all of my POTSie, Masty, and Zebra spoons for the entire day in the 30 minutes that it took me to get ready. Pointless, right?
Here’s the other kicker–I get so wrapped up in trying to convince people that I am able to be well and self-sufficient that I end up sicker, and I actually have the nerve to get mad at people for believing me.
I actually get mad at people for believing me! That’s crazy, right? I want to look normal, be treated normally, and fit in with the general population, but I also expect people to read my mind when I feel like I’m dying. I’m learning something revolutionary: People don’t read minds. Well, generally they don’t. There are those empaths that are so intuitive that they can see past my BS in a nano-second. I have about three of them in my life, and thank the Lord, my husband is one of them. Other than the psychic-seeming empaths, however, 98 percent of the population do not read minds.
I see two reasons for my dysfunctional behavior of covering up my pain:
The first reason for my need to pretend is that I feel the need to prove myself, perform, and not inconvenience anyone. I have an ingrained sense of responsibility to protect people from my “needy” self, so I desperately try to convince everyone that they don’t need to be concerned about me. This is probably because I have never felt worthy of nurture or care, and nurture and care make me squirm like a worm-digging, mud-pie building kid forced to don a stiff, unyielding fancy suit at a formal wedding. Receiving care just doesn’t feel right nor does it feel natural.
My second reason that I can see is that we live in a culture of rugged individualism and fierce independence. Western society struggles to see the need for interdependence, believing that the stronger we are individually, the more we are able to stand on our own two feet without any support from others. This is one of the reasons why we as a society are so sick. We have grown to isolate ourselves more and more, creating a bunch of little one-person-islands trying to pretend that we are content to “go it on our own” yet secretly hoping that someone will see our pain. I have trended toward giving in to the pervasive message that our society is sending out: Be strong; do it yourself. This is not the truth of being created in the image of God. We were created for relationship, to do life together, to be interdependent, and to grow and learn in community.
What I have attempted to do in creating this facade of independence is insanity. Here’s the truth: I am sick, and I need care. I do not feel well, ever. I actually feel like I have been hit by a truck, and then again by a city bus, and once again by a freight train. Ninety-five percent of the time, I have a fever. If I stand up for more than two minutes, my brain stops working, my legs give out, and I will fall. On a good day, I get hives when I am exposed to any kind of fragrance, chemical, or food. On a bad day, I will have difficulty breathing and will experience anaphylaxis. I am on hard-core pain killers to manage the pain caused by my constantly over-extending and dislocating joints, and I frequently have breakthrough pain. Every task, including walking ten steps down the hall, requires the energy that I used to expend on a 10 to 20 mile run. I give myself pep-talks to brush my teeth or help my children brush their teeth. I am better physically if I am lying in bed all day, but I am better emotionally if I am able to be out and engage in the world. There is no cure for my illnesses, and despite what I try to to communicate, I am not feeling any better this Holiday season than I was last year.
It’s not a pretty picture. My illness, like my trauma, does not make people feel good. That’s why I try not to let it show. I want to make people feel good. But here’s the deal: In trying to make others “feel good”, I am preventing myself from being known, making myself even sicker, and staving off actual relationships. And then everyone feels even worse.
There is beauty in our messy, broken lives. There is no real beauty in a facade. Our false selves are hollow and ultimately push others away. Our false independence creates in us attitudes of either arrogance or self-hate. Our rugged individualism creates walls that end up being prisons.
So here I am, make-up-free, flat on my back, declaring that I am not okay. I need people, and I need nurture, and sometimes I need people to sit with me in my suffering. Within my Spirit, a voice whispers that we were all created for this kind of fellowship.
This blog post in obviously only a first step in my “coming out” process. I stand in this liminal space, here in the blogosphere, declaring my need for interdependence, vulnerability, and truth, and I will carry it into the real world. I will reach out to one person, and then another, and then another.
It might require baby steps. I don’t plan on stopping the application of make-up, but I do plan on re-prioritizing. Looking like I am well does not need to be my first priority. Being daily transformed to the character of Christ, being authentic, loving my children, just connecting with others moment-by-moment, and taking care of myself spiritually, physically, and emotionally: These need to be my priorities. If I am living into these priorities, then I am moving in the right direction.
We are not doing anyone anyone any favors by pretending that we are “okay” when we truly are not okay. We are not protecting others, we are not protecting ourselves, and we are not protecting God. We are stunting our growth and killing our relationships. So, friends, as we step into reality and truth, let’s start trusting one another a little bit more, let’s lay down our self-sufficient pride enough to risk “looking sick” and making ourselves and others a little bit uncomfortable.
I am learning that I am falsely assuming that others want to hear that I am well when I am not. I am learning that more often than not in my relationships, people ask because they care. I am learning that as a body of Christ, we meet each other’s compassion with truth, not false images of wellness. Our healing comes in our vulnerability, and our deceptions worsen our sicknesses. An old AA adage goes as follows: “You are only as sick as your secrets.” What if we lived in the open? What if we laid down the masks? What if we met compassion with honesty and actually lived in community? I know that my own life would look radically different, and I know that my load would feel undoubtably lighter. We cannot bear one another’s burdens if we are not willing to disclose to others our own burdens.
Love has two sides: Grace and truth. Let’s meet others with both compassion and honesty as we live authentic, vulnerable, facade-free lives.