I hate masks. I mean I really hate them. I can barely look at someone wearing a mask, much less talk to them. You can’t see their faces, you have no idea what they might be feeling or thinking, and even though you can see their eyes, surrounded by that mask, they are not the “windows to the soul” that eyes usually are. It makes me physically ill to talk to someone with a mask on, even people I know and love. Weird, right???!!!
The truth is, though, that I wear a mask pretty much every time I go out in public. I almost always have a smile on my face, and when asked how I’m doing I respond “Great!” and act as if everything is just fine even when it’s not. It’s not that I’m trying to be fake or deceive anyone; it’s just that I want to be treated like a “normal” person. I guess I always expect to be treated one of two ways when people know I have fibromyalgia: with pity or with callousness. Pity because they think I can’t possibly have a fulfilling life with a chronic illness, or callousness because they don’t think fibromyalgia is real.
Every now and then, though, that mask slips and the truth shows through. Last Sunday, my mask didn’t just slip; it fell completely off. I was supposed to visit my parents for a couple of days and I was heading down immediately after our Sunday morning Life Group. I had the car packed and my husband and I took separate vehicles to the church so I could leave straight from there. There was only one problem. I’ve been battling an intermittent problem with my hips for months now, and it has been especially bad the last couple of months. Sunday by the time I got to the church, they were screaming in pain. I couldn’t sit still through Life Group and rather than paying attention I started worrying about how on earth I was going to make the drive to my parents’ house. It was all I could do not to cry from the pain and the frustration of pain stopping me in my tracks once again. I made it through class without breaking down, and was leaving the room when one of the ladies said, “You’re really hurting today, aren’t you?”
You know how you’re doing okay until someone is kind to you, and then you lose it? Well, that was me. The waterworks started. We were still in the classroom, so several other ladies saw what was going on and came over as well. They all expressed so much concern, but without pity. They just showed love and caring, and helped me feel less embarrassed about breaking down in public. One sweet lady sat and prayed with me. Although I was a wreck, I felt so blessed to have such support; it was amazing! I felt like the Grinch in How the Grinch Stole Christmas — my “heart grew three sizes that day.”
I was reminded once again of how important a support system is when you are living with fibromyalgia or any other chronic illness. It’s so tempting to close yourself off from others, to hold everyone at arm’s length, and not let them see what’s really going on with you so you don’t have to deal with potential pity or judgment, but those very people you push away could be the ones you need the most. In addition, you could be the person they need the most in their lives. We may have a lot of limitations, but we can certainly still love and support people.
Being vulnerable is hard. I know, because that’s something I really struggle with. I think we’ve probably all been hurt by people in our past. This can make it hard to open up, but we can’t let our past determine our future. Yes, we may still get hurt, but we don’t know until we try, and what if, like my experience last Sunday, we discover a blessing instead?