Friday, October 28, 2011

The Girl Behind the Mask

I don't let many people see behind the mask that I present to the world. I've always been guarded. Chronic illness makes it more exhausting to keep the mask up, but having an invisible illness makes it easier to appear "fine" to the outside world.

Many people hide behind a mask in order to not burden others with their troubles / struggles, and sometimes it's just to help ourselves get through the pain (by allowing us to "pretend" to be okay for some time). But, one of the problems with hiding behind a mask is that others don't know you're hurting, so they don't offer help... then, you may feel like no one understands you or cares, and the cycle continues.

The most difficult thing now is that I'm not quite sure who the girl behind the mask as anymore. I can't just wait for glimpses of the pre-accident me, but I haven't quite accepted all the ways my life has changed. So, while I continue to re-define myself, I'll give you a peek behind the mask... some of the truth behind the smile. I can see myself writing more on this topic in the future, but here's a peek.

Stages of Grief

Chronic pain involves working through the 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, depression, bargaining, acceptance), over and over. I grieve the loss of good health... my identity... the future I envisioned for myself... and all of those moments lost to pain. I don't always go through the stages in order; and even if I make it to the acceptance stage, I often find myself back in one of the other stages.

Time is Warped

Chronic pain has a way of warping time. Sometimes time just seems to drag by, and it feels like the pain will never cease. Other times, it seems like it flies by.

It's hard to be asked the question, "What have you been doing lately?" Sometimes I haven't been doing anything, except try to make it through days of migraine pain. But, sometimes (most of the time, these days), I honestly don't know the answer. People think that I'm just trying to avoid the question, but I really don't always remember... that's what happens when you have to focus on getting through a moment at a time... time slips away, often with nothing to show for it (no memories, accomplishments, etc...).

I used to plan my life out - days / weeks / months / years. I knew that things wouldn't work out "as planned," but I found comfort in having a plan... a direction. Now, everything seems contingent on how I feel. I rarely drive, limit my time out of the apartment, and miss countless moments that I can never get back (including family get-togethers and friends' weddings). I feel like my life has no (known) plan, direction, or purpose. I know that God will use these trials to fulfill His will, but I don't feel like I'm doing anything more than trying to get through each day.

Mixed Emotions

There are a lot of different emotions that come along with chronic illness. Just some of these are: denial, anger, fear, guilt, anxiety, apathy, devastation, depression, disappointment, grief... but there is also HOPE and GRATITUDE.

It may be difficult to find hope at times, but there's always a possibility that things will get better. This isn't to say that your chronic illness will be cured (it might be, but it very well might not). But, there are many treatments and other things that you can do to help improve your quality of life. Life may not look the way you thought it would, but that doesn't mean that you have to live an empty life completely controlled by pain.

One of the things that has helped me through, has been my family. My family can see the pain in my eyes, no matter how much of a front I have up. They're always there to love and support me, and I'm so grateful for them. I also have the most caring, loving, and understanding husband I could ever imagine. He sees me in the good times and bad... he knows my battle scars, but sees who I am beneath the mask and scars. I'm so blessed to have such a loving God and family!

The Girl Behind the Mask

Who is that girl behind the mask?
What lies behind the smile?

When I go out, instead of putting on make-up,
I find myself putting on a mask.
A mask to superficially cover the incessant pain,
Lost moments, and looming darkness.
A mask to protect others from the burdens
Of living a life with chronic pain.

© 2011 Jamie Valendy.


  1. Yeah, the stages of grief seem like a ferris wheel when you live with chronic pain. You get to the top (acceptance) and then something comes up that take your right back down to the bottom (denial) once again. Aargh! I also can relate to time being warped and feeling like too much of it gets wasted just trying to make it through high pain days. Hang in there Jamie.

  2. Completely agree with you about the time-warp. I *really* wish I could explain this to people in a way that they could understand. Thanks for showing us a bit behind the mask.<3


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