#3 — When Illness Turns You Into a Shadow
There are loud illnesses. They’re visible. They draw people’s attention and pity, as well as their unwanted advice. The type of disease that turns everyone around us into a walking Google results page.
And there are silent illnesses. The ones that no one else but us can pick up. They cannot hear it, see it, touch it. Even when we tell them, they seem to forget about it a few moments later.
Because on the outside, everything seems fine.
On the outside, it’s business as usual.
But on the inside, we’re sliding into the abyss.
Illnesses that turn us into a shadow.
Between 2014 and 2017, I was struck by a silent illness.
Sometime in January 2013, I started developing a small rash around my liver area. Within a few days, the rash had spread to my stomach and my back. A few weeks later, all my body was infected, except my face, and my hands.
The visible parts of my body were spared. The irony.
For months, I went from general doctors to specialists, to holistic doctors to weird modalities all around the world. I was in so much pain and agony that I was willing to try anything.
Even if it defied logic.
No one knew what was going on.
I learned to live with the atrocious pain because I had a child to raise and a husband to love.
I learned to hide my symptoms behind a professional smile because I had to continue making a living as the main breadwinner of our family.
I learned to keep living and moving forward even when my skin would tear while I walked.
Even when I would arrive two hours late at appointments because I couldn’t put my clothes on after taking a shower. I would slap an apologetic smile on my face and blurb out a random excuse for my tardiness and move on.
No one knew.
The fact that I barely slept for 3 years. No one knew.
The tens of thousands of dollars then went into trying to find a cure, and the chronic disappointment when nothing worked. No one knew.
The toll it took on my family. No one knew.
And I resented them for that.
And then one day in the summer of 2015, my Kung Fu Grand Master, a wise Vietnamese warrior well versed in Chinese Medicine, said to me while I was standing in his office after training:
“How is your health? You know, you are sick because you’re angry.”
My immediate answer (slapping a rehearsed smile on my face): “Grand Master, I’m always smiling, how can I be angry?”
“You’re angry,” he simply added.
His statement stayed with me for days.
For once, someone seemed to have looked at me long enough to “see me”, but… he surely was mistaken…
This started a difficult introspection and journey of personal development that broke down every little piece of my identity, so I could rebuild a new one.
I dug and dug and dug, pulling out every last ounce of anger, resentment, disappointment that I didn’t know I had buried inside me.
A lot of tears were shed. A lot of hard conversations were had. Everyone I love had a piece of me.
I questioned everything I thought to be true and ended up discarding 90% of my beliefs and world view.
I realized that the “me” that had become invisible during my illness, had never existed.
I had just been a pretty assortment of others’ expectations, and had grown to resent not having room to be ME.
My dreams and goals had expanded, and yet I was so focus on making others feel seen and heard, that I had become invisible even before the illness.
Disease hadn’t made me invisible, it had just unveiled a critical error in my operating system.
As I decluttered my internal software and completely reformatted my identity, my symptoms started fading. I took one courageous action after another. Focused on what brought me joy.
What “I” wanted for my life.
And one day, I realized I was healthy and vibrant.
In better health than I’d ever been been.
If you’d told me 10 years ago that I would be living the life I’m currently living and achieve what I’ve achieved in past the past 5 years, I would have said you’re a liar.
The illness that I thought made me invisible is the trigger that made me look myself in the mirror, call bullshit on my fears, and brought the real me to life.
Today, I see me, and I love what I see.