Disappointing Others Due to My Invisible Illnesses... "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"

I'm a people pleaser. It's something I've worked for years to overcome... to no avail. I worry way too much about what people think - even from people who I know love me "no matter what."

This can be a huge issue with my work. I can be so paralyzed with concern about the product - photos or writing - that I'm producing for a client, that sometimes I will edit and edit and edit before I'm done. Or I overthink what I need to do so much that I can't even get started.

This is something that I think pretty much everyone deals with to some extent at some point in life.

When you add an invisible illness to the mix, it makes it much worse.

For example, lately, I've been going back and forth a lot between physical and mental junk (at times both at once). I feel horrible when I have to miss or cancel an event because I know it could disappoint or inconvenience someone else.

The thing is, I am able to attend some of the time. Out of those times I actually make it to an event, sometimes I get there and feel okay. 

Except for the times I don't...

Many of those who have invisible illnesses are great actors. They are wonderful covering up the pain physically or emotionally that they are feeling. They are able to attend work, school, and social events like they weren't in pain.

I'm not. I've even joked that I could never play poker because I can't hide what I'm feeling. I have a very difficult time covering up when I'm in pain or severely depressed or manic. 

Ironically, this trait, though it may be more authentic than acting like everything's okay, causes a lot of problems socially.

It's one of those "I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't" situations.

The background: 

Let's say I'm having a fibromyalgia flare-up. I feel bloated and ache all over. It's hard to walk and any joint or muscle pain that I was already living before the episode is increased. 

Or I'm extremely depressed and have a difficult time getting out of bed. The slightest thing going wrong makes me burst into tears. I often describe it as feeling like I'm swimming in molasses.

The scenario: 

I've been invited to a party with friends I don't get to see very often. I've been looking forward to going for weeks. But then one of the above background issues (or many others I deal with) invades my life.

The disclaimer: 

Remember that I can't go into a social situation and pretend that I'm not hurting. So I'm always caught in a dilemma: Do I stay or do I go? (as said in the popular song by The Clash)

The decision: 

If I stay home, I feel guilty. I feel like I should be there, that I'm a disappointment because the expectation was that I would attend and I didn't - and being reliable was one of my strengths before all this stuff came into my life.

But then sometimes my FOMO (fear of missing out) kicks in and I decide to go.

If I push through and attend, I feel that I'm a disappointment for bringing the fun atmosphere of the party down. I have actually hidden in another room at parties because once I got there, I couldn't deal with the feeling that those near me can't have a good time - because of me.

The aftermath:

No matter which decision I make, I always feel like I should apologize to everyone for being such a disappointment.

My best friends and some of my family understand. I am learning that it helps to explain these kinds of things at the beginning of any relationship. (Note that I only tell those I feel safe with - not my brand new boss or the casual acquaintance who I know makes fun of others behind their backs.)

I don't feel quite as much of a disappointment if I told them what's really going on when I don't show up.

However, there is always someone who doesn't understand - either because I don't know them well enough to tell them or because they didn't believe it, which brings me back to being a people pleaser.

If I wasn't such a people pleaser, I wouldn't care what those who don't know or don't believe... I would simply go on with the knowledge that I'm doing my personal best given my current circumstances.

Therapy and a lot of work in this area have helped, but I feel that this is something I'll struggle with my entire life. 

Only when there are enough of us with invisible illnesses - those who are vulnerable enough to reveal what is actually happening when we check out emotionally or physically - will the world start to be a place where we feel supported, no matter whether we decide to stay or to go.


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