Dressed up to go on a date, shortly after crying alone in the bathroom because I’m in pain and exhausted. The person I show vs the person I am.

Growing up, I was taught that it is important to be yourself and not to be ashamed of your thoughts, opinions, and most importantly your faith. Now I try to bring that approach into all my interactions. I’m not shy and I tend to speak my mind. I think real connection with people comes with vulnerability, and vulnerability requires honesty. Consequently I run the risk of being a bit too honest. My husband once told me that if there’s an awkward silence in a social situation I’ll throw a brick right through it. He’s right but it’s not that I want to be difficult, I just want to be authentic

It sure feels like I’ve been throwing verbal bricks lately. When I speak candidly about my struggles and limitations I’m often met with an awkward silence. People don’t know what to say and the more I talk the worse it gets. My words fall flat, crashing through social norms.

But how do you interact according to society’s expectations when your body doesn’t follow the rules? So much of my daily routines and so many of my decisions (i.e. the foundations for almost all interactions) are based on the oddness that’s going on inside me. To ignore that feels like pretending to be someone I’m not. It feels like performance.

A few weeks ago at work a lunchtime conversation came up that was just so perfect, it made my day. Conversation was meandering, as it does in a group, and, as part of a larger topic, I mentioned that I keep a spare outfit in my desk drawer because sometimes my medication caused incontinence. Instead of the awkward silence that typically greets a statement like that, my coworker shared a hilarious story about the time he had stomach problems and soiled his pants at a gas station.

His story entertained most of the group, grossed out a few people, and thrilled me. Not because of the story itself, but because it normalized my experience. I felt a sense of solidarity and belonging in that moment.

That conversation was atypical though.

More often I see people get uncomfortable when they don’t know what to say so sometimes I refrain from sharing what’s going on inside me. It’s usually easy to hide the extent that I’m physically affected.

I’m almost always in pain. I’m almost always struggling to breathe. My limbs almost always feel heavy and slow. But I’m also almost always smiling and not letting on that anything is wrong.

What’s the right approach? What’s the right balance?

I don’t know. I guess I’ll just keep trying to figure it out.

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