This morning got me thinking about confession. Not in the religious sense, but in terms of cleansing ourselves from some of the things we might have done or experiences we might have had in the past but are too ashamed to fully admit. I barely slept last night, which isn’t too different from other nights, but last night I had a lot on my mind. I was thinking about invisible illness week and how it ties to suicide prevention and awareness. This led me to think about other experiences I have had with people I know who have struggled silently with an invisible illness. When I went to write here, since I am trying my best to be open, I realized that there is a line between being open and over sharing. So, instead of writing here in the middle of the night, I emailed two of my best friends. I wrote to them about someone from my past that passed away due to an invisible illness, and one he never shared with most people, and to this day, even though he is gone, I don’t think anyone other than his family and a few close friends know the real reason why he passed away. It is something I wanted to write about, and help spread awareness about, for him, since when he was alive he tried so hard to educate me about the disease. I did, however, tell my friends all about him, and how I was feeling about the situation, and why I was thinking about him a bit more than usual last night/early this morning.
The invisible illness I am referring to is hepatitis C. It is honestly something that has crossed my path because of this person, and something I knew nothing about until I met him. This is an illness that I am not the most educated person on, at all, so I don’t want anyone to misinterpret the things I am saying or where they are coming from. I was an outsider in this situation, and did my best to understand, but I am ashamed to admit that I did not handle the situation very well. This person told me upfront and honestly about his disease, and I was OK with it, until I went with a friend to donate blood and looked at the form, and saw two of the questions pertained to hepatitis C. I was under the impression that unless there was blood to blood contact, like a blood transfusion, that I was in no danger of contracting the disease myself. And although that is usually the case, as I understand it, there are other ways and to use my friend Sara’s words, “Being sick for so long as turned me into a fearful adult.” That was the case with me. Once I saw that there was even the slightest chance that I was in danger of contracting the illness myself, I froze. Well, first I yelled, cried, and was tested for the disease five times because I was so nervous. When I got the phone call from my doctor telling me the good news, I was upstate at my family’s house and as I hung up the phone, my dad looked at me after he knew everything was fine and said “you just saw your life flash before your eyes didn’t you?” And the answer was yes. Yes, I did.
I was so afraid from that point on of being around him, and I tried so hard to be sensitive and not be direct and honest for fear of hurting his feelings. But in doing that, I think I hurt him even more. He knew I had a problem with the situation. He was very in tuned to me and how I was acting, but I still always denied it when he brought it up. I just never wanted to hurt him, never wanted to alienate him, because I would never want anyone to do that to me. I had a lot of trouble with this concept and my parents kept saying to me that it was like apples and oranges, and there was no comparison between ulcerative colitis and hepatitis C. But I still looked at it the same way. Hepatitis C is an invisible chronic illness that is very embarrassing and not something that most people would want to share, for fear of…well I guess, getting the reaction this person got from me. I never got a chance to apologize for how I acted. It was easier for me to have him view me as someone who didn’t know “what a real relationship/friendship” was. It was easier for me to be the bad guy, than to look him in the eye and tell him the truth.
This story, in its entirety, is not something I share with most people. I may use some derivative of it in passing conversations, but only to a few people have I ever directly spoke about him and the position I was in.
My friends, Sara and Amanda, and I, have sort of been having confession-like emails and conversations, where we tell each other things that we’ve always kept to ourselves, or even only told a few people about. We talk about some of the things we have experienced or situations we have been in (or are currently dealing with) that are hard for us to let go and that are very difficult for us to open up and talk about. We go back and forth with emails, texts, or phone conversations until we sort of feel like we have gotten everything out. It made me think about how healthy this was, and how cathartic it was for me to open up to them in the middle of the night, and read their responses this morning. It was so nice to be able to just type everything I was feeling and send it to Sara and Amanda, knowing that I would not be met with judgmental comments, but with unconditional support and love. This made me think about how important it is to have at least one person, whether it is a friend, significant other, or even a therapist. Just, someone who you can open up to and share your deepest secrets and emotions in a safe environment. I believe it was Amanda, who said in her response “I am so happy we have created this safe place for us to share.”
We all need a safe place or a person to share with. Since the title of my blog is “Keeping Things Inside is Bad For My Health,” it would be pretty safe to assume that I have kept an enormous amount inside me for years. It has done nothing but caused me extreme anxiety and unrelenting pain. Nothing good comes from keeping things inside. We all need someone to talk to, someone to listen, someone to understand, just…someone to be there.