I had a doctor growing up who nicknamed me Mona Lisa. He said I hid behind my smile. I was a mystery to some doctors partly because if they asked how I felt, I would grin and respond with, “I’m fine.” He would say that he could see the wheels turning in my head, and the burdens I would carry behind my eyes. I’m not sure if it was my age at the time or just my strong will that kept me from giving up. Through my younger years I felt if I smiled through pain it would keep my family and friends from hurting along with me. I truly thought I was protecting them. I faced multiple health challenges as a young child. I did it with innocence, humor and a positive attitude. Don’t get me wrong, there were tears when the pain hit it’s various peaks, but I would always try to keep that upright arch on my face. I was never a very good liar, and to be honest despise people who do, but I sure learned to mask the pain.
Now as an adult only three years into my diagnosis with Ankylosing Spondylitis, I have realized he was right. When you have AS and the pain is at a peak moment there is no hiding. During flares, between exhaustion, headaches, and flat out pain, smiles are hard to use as the shield that I once depended on. I now know it is okay to show and express the pain. It doesn’t mean I’m weak or less than a “normal” person. Through the multiple doctors appointments, hospital stays and sleepless nights my loved ones suffered right along with me. I want to apologize and thank them for helping me through those younger years. I also realize as an adult that this thank you and apology is not necessary in the big picture. They were my loved ones, and as my support at the time, it was just part of the experience.
I know I did not choose to have multiple health obstacles, but when I was younger I couldn’t help but feel if I were not around suffering would of been obsolete for my loved ones. One of the most mentally painful days in my life was at the age of 12. I was told by someone who I believed cared for me, that I indeed caused them a lot of suffering and it would of been easier without my presence. It sat on my mind for years. I do confidently know now that the person who spoke these cruel words to a child had no true strength. They came from a lesser and selfish heart. I cannot change the past and the words that struck me so hard, but now with the strong support system I have in place, know that every challenge and cruel word uttered has helped make me the strong woman I am today. Oprah has a quote that I cherish and carry with me; “Forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past could of been different”.
Like Mona Lisa, I still try and smile through any obstacle that may be facing me at the moment. I still think I mask it at times but also know it’s okay to admit I may not be 100%. Ankylosing Spondylitis has taught me so much. I have learned to express myself, who truly believes in and supports me, and how to accept the fact I may not be able to conquer the world alone. It has also taught me that I’ m a stronger woman than I ever thought possible. I know how important attitude is when it comes to your health and life in general. A favorite saying of mine is; “When you feel like giving up, remember why you held on for so long in the first place.”. I look at my loved ones and the many other ASers that are experiencing this journey along with me, and it confirms that my smile has never been in vain.
This article is intended to convey general educational information and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.