One of the greatest obstacles I have encountered during the six years I have lived with a chronic illness is attempting to explain to other people what I am experiencing in relation to this illness. When asked how I am doing or how I am feeling, I tend to waver between being completely honest about the myriad of symptoms I am struggling with, or being dismissive with a generic answer that I am doing fine. I believe that most people also deal with this decision in some way or another on a daily basis. As a formality we are often asked, 'how are you?', which we tend to answer with some type of generic response, 'fine' or 'good'. But what about the times we are truly struggling inside in some way or another? How honest are we to be with people without making them uncomfortable?
When I do choose to be completely honest, and describe the burning and throbbing pain in my legs, the stabbing pain in my feet, or the crippling fatigue that keeps me in bed more often than I care to admit, I find others quite often respond in disbelief. "But you look so good' they say to me, which leaves me feeling conflicted on how to respond, not only verbally, but emotionally as well. Sometimes I feel guilty for voicing my discomfort, because I know there are so many others who have it much harder than I do. But I also want to help bring awareness to others that there are so many 'invisible disabilities' that countless people struggle with, but which most people in their lives cannot see or understand.
I suppose that one gift I have received as a result of my illness is that I am more inclined to wonder at what lies beneath the surface of what I see in other people. It seems like we live in a society where so much is judged by what we see. Perhaps human beings are naturally inclined to rely on the visual sense more than their other senses, but I find that so much can be lost as a consequence. I try my best each day to look beyond the surface of at least one other person, and truly wonder what this person might be experiencing beyond what I can judge from what I see. I think that perhaps all of us have things that we struggle with that are not visible to others at first glance. But what if we take the time to see in a different way when we look at others? Instead of looking at their outward appearance, might it be helpful to attempt to gaze inside their internal experience?