The Facade

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“You look lovely this morning,” my husband said as I was finishing getting dressed. “Thanks,” I said, “It’s how I pretend that I feel good.”

Part of me feels like that’s quite the attention-seeking statement, because I am highly allergic to attention seeking. I attract, like moths to flame, people who are pathological attention-seekers and who would squeeze me into the tiniest corner in the tiniest room in the tiniest place in the world in order to demand all possible attention. Thus, my own sense of what is appropriate in terms of one’s need for attention is flawed the other way; I learned to take pride in being stuffed into that tiny corner. For example, there are some very stressful things going on in my and my husband’s respective familes right now, but when my co-worker said that I seemed really down, was everything okay? I was initially uncomfortable and then critical of myself that I let anything show. I have done enough work on my life that I was able to reply that I am very stressed and sad about some family issues instead of what my training as tiny would instruct, which would be to insist that I was okay, or, short of that, that I am simply “tired.”

It’s normal, it’s normal, it’s normal to sometimes show your personal emotional state on your face and in your limbs and voice. But I cringe away, fearing I will become the sort of monster that I have spent much of my life trying to separate from, even as more and more of them are attracted to me. Sometimes I feel like I have to shovel away the piles of narcissistic screams and demands just to get out to my car. I can’t say anything on Facebook without someone jumping in and taking over, I can’t go anywhere without being asked first about someone else’s situation instead of my own, more of my time is spent talking to my mother about someone else’s issues instead of mine. These are all things I work very hard at balancing so that I don’t find myself stuffed into that little corner; or at least so that I haven’t agreed to stay in that corner so that other people can shout over me.

My Facade is part of that; I don’t want anyone today to look at me and think, “She looks like she spent 45 minutes in the bathroom due to a huge IBS/Mast Cell flare-up and can’t stop scratching her legs and is deeply freaked.” One thing I’ve learned is that people do not look closely at other people for the most part.There are those of us who are keenly observant and empathetic who *do* look at other people closely enough to be able to pick up on their cues, but that is not most people. So if I have on a great outfit and makeup and my (currently, newly dyed) green hair, nobody is going to watch more closely to see how much I am wringing my hands because they hurt or rubbing my wrists or privately despairing that my gut will ever work properly and panicking at every gurgle or pop that I will experience intestinal betrayal while away from home. They don’t notice that my husband and child hold nearly every door open for me, they don’t notice my good friend gripping my elbow if she and I are walking over rough terrain.

Just as it is unhealthy to seek attention at all costs, it’s also unhealthy to refuse to admit that one isn’t perfectly perfect all the time. Having been in a life-long, tremendously unhealthy relationship with someone who is pathologically unable to stop demanding all the attention, I can tell you that the day I began to speak up in even the slightest bit, the response was furious and uncontrolled and savage. How dare I demand anything when my issues could never, ever, top the other person’s? Because it’s not a contest. Still, my reactionary position is to avoid ever doing anything that might engender other people to compare me to that person. So, if someone is wildly, exaggeratedly sick, I must present myself as entirely well. But that can’t work as a long-term strategy. Part of writing this blog is, for me, about staking out a bigger space where there is some room for me and I won’t be pushed back into a corner.

It’s unlikely that you’ll see a picture of me without makeup, unwashed and wearing the clothes I slept in, but it’s at least a place where I can say that I don’t feel well, I have pain, I am anxious. Even though I look nice.

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