People who know me, as a close friend or an acquaintance, know that I don’t talk about my health. Not many know why.
I’ve been a private person most of my life. In the beginning, I was emulating the behaviour of role models without knowing why privacy was coveted, or what parts of my life should remain confidential. At some point, I found my own reasons, especially when it came to my health.
Right after Dr. HC’s diagnosis, and months before anger settled into my chest, quickening the pace of my pulse, leaving me almost breathless far too often, I stumbled through my days without a clear purpose. The future was suddenly frightening. Every new or worsening symptom, like blurred vision or more dizzy spells, was a sign that my body was failing.
In those stunned days before I decided that I didn’t have Fibromyalgia, I told three people at work about it. One person was shocked that I confided in him, another was extremely sympathetic and told me about her sister who had the same thing, and another suggested time off work.
There was no way in hell I was taking time off work. Taking time off meant that I really was sick and I couldn’t face that possibility. No, the only solution was to shut up. I didn’t tell anyone else, and I sewed a glossy, magazine cut-out smile over my tired, pinched lips. I’m great! How are you?
Six months before meeting Dr. HC, my mother-in-law, who was like a mother to me, was diagnosed with Leukemia. Supporting her as she fought for her life gave me a certain perspective about illness. She never made me feel like my pain was less important than her cancer, but that’s because she was a great woman, not because it was true. Despite her encouragement, I was ashamed to talk about it. My symptoms were an inconvenience, nothing more.
This thing I was suffering from, whatever it was, wasn’t going to kill me. Complaining about my pain at work wasn’t going to make friends, and it wasn’t going to get me promoted. In fact, my sickness would probably hold me back. Keeping it to myself made me feel safe during a time when there wasn’t much to feel safe about.
There were a bunch of things that I assumed would happen if I told people. Here’s what I didn’t want: to be treated differently, to wallow in self-pity, to explain that I was sick with something I didn’t fully believe in, to be labelled as a sickie, to worry my friends and family, to hear about off-the-wall natural cures, to think of ways to bring it up seamlessly in conversation, to draw attention to my on-again-off-again relationship with intelligence.
Tucked near the bottom of my list of reasons to stay quiet was a reason that might have been at the heart of many others. Who cares?