I’m black and I’m a woman. Two certainties that some would say have already afforded me two strikes in my life up to this point. I don’t agree of course but you could see how sharing a diagnosis such as multiple sclerosis with others, who have probably already deemed me inadequate, could make me rightfully apprehensive.
I learned early being a black woman in this world you could not have weaknesses period! I had to be smarter, better and stronger than my peers. And I don’t mean stronger only mentally but physically as well. Constantly in my youth I was challenge by my brothers who engaged me in many varied competitive feats of strength never caring once that I was a girl. In their minds girls had to be strong too! In fact being a girl was the very reason they challenged me relentlessly. Consciously they were toughening me up for a world that would unforgivably demand me to be unshakably strong while unknowingly creating within me a sense of invincibility.
Yes invincibility. Countless hours of competitions with three brothers in my youth had helped me create an ego that exuded a bold and unrealistic confidence in my fitness and health. Undoubtedly I believed that I was this specimen that when matched up to another woman of the same age, height, weight I would always have the upper hand…until I didn’t. My kryptonite would come in the form of a disease and that disease would be Multiple Sclerosis.
How could I save face now? One of the best if not the best attribute about me is my physical strength and it was now in a dog fight with one of the most obscure and subjective diseases known to man. What would others think now that it was gone or at the least comprised? Listen, no one would care about Batman and Superman if they didn’t have any powers. You think people flocked to movie theaters to see Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent? Not!
Multiple Sclerosis would expose me. It would make me vulnerable and seem weak in a world that I could not afford to be either. So I hid my secret. I pretended to be well when I was sick. I pretended to be strong when I was weak and energized when I was solely running on fumes. I wore a mask of “good health” so well I’m sure I left the select few who did know about my diagnosis questioning if I really had it at all.
Am I proud of my actions of course not. Am I apologetic for hiding my disease? I’m sorry to shock you but the answer is no. Let’s face it we don’t live in a loving world where an individual’s differences are accepted or handicaps are seen as indifferent and ill or sick people are welcomed with open arms. Hell I’d do it again if meant I had to protect my mental well being and keep people from hurting me emotionally. This disease isn’t easy. And anyone who thinks it is just doesn’t get it.