MS and the Art of Pretending – Beyond the Smile

MS and the Art of Pretending – Beyond the Smile

Patiently Awakened

eyesThis photo was taken more than a year ago and I remember it as if it were yesterday. There was so much going on behind the smile captured in this picture.

Smoky Robinson serenaded about “the tears of a clown.” I definitely played the role of the clown that day. Smiling on the outside, yet crying profusely on the inside. It was a rough day. I was almost one year into my diagnosis and the ache in my heart was immense. I was frightened, angry, sad and in physical pain. I was having a really rough time and no one, other than my husband, was conscious of that fact.

We had plans to attend a concert later that evening. The time arrived and I was picture perfect. My hair and makeup were to my liking. I looked into the mirror, gave myself a nod of approval, grabbed my purse and we were off for the evening. I really enjoyed the show and needed the time out. Unfortunately, neither my pain nor my fear would cease. I remember thinking that I did not want to ruin our night so I counseled myself and prayed to God to just help me get through the next few hours. My emotions went high, low, round and round. It felt as though I was riding on a carousel. Obviously, I made it through that night. — and many others just like it.

Looking at this photo saddens me. I stare into my eyes and the message is clearly visible. My pain is palpable. My eyes are telling my truth. I have always been sensitive, emotional and very attuned to my feelings. I believe this to be my greatest strength. My composition allows me to look at people beyond face value. I have become an expert at reading eyes. This photo recalls every emotion encountered on that particular day. I want to reach out to the woman that is me and embrace her. I want to say to her that the unrest she feels is not her life sentence. I want to remind her of her strength, her faith and the calling on her life. I want to tell her that she is a survivor who will rise against all affliction. I want to remind the woman she has been chosen by God to walk by faith and live in truth. I want her to remember that from birth her parents spoke life, abundance and purpose into her spirit. I want to console her. I want to console me.

Eyes tell the truth behind the smile

Multiple sclerosis, heart disease and so many other conditions are called “invisible illnesses.” I know all too well the reasons why. There are so many symptoms that are imperceptible to the human eye. Many of us become “masters” of charades subconsciously hiding behind our smiles. We pretend all is well when we are ailing. Many of us know that if we allow ourselves to react to every emotion, ache or pain, we are stunting ourselves from moving forward. The only way to combat MS, or any chronic illness for that matter, is to fight it. We cannot submit to the illness.

The gist of this column is twofold. First, I am reaching out to all of my fellow warriors and survivors who bravely weather the tides of multiple sclerosis and chronic illness. I want you to know that I see you,  admire your strength and acknowledge your pain. I see beyond your smile. I understand there are some days we have to smile to keep from crying. You are courageous. I am saying to you, and to the me in this photo, that although we don’t understand this course of life, it is well with our souls. We must trust in the creator and look to the hills for help.

Secondly, I am reaching out to all of those who love someone who has a chronic illness. Your love and support are the greatest gifts you can offer. Please know we don’t take it for granted. You will never completely understand this journey and there is so much that is beyond our explanation. We rely on your strength more often than you know. My plea is for you to learn to see beyond the smile. The eyes will always reveal the truth. Look into the eyes of your loved one, friend or acquaintance. Proffer a word of encouragement, a smile or a hug.

“From your eyes I can see the depths of your soul. They tell me the secrets that you hold. And although you have learned to smile and pretend. I will always see the truth because I am your friend.” — Teresa Wright-Johnson


    • Angela says:

      Debbie – so glad this got to your inbox in time. A very inspirational piece that says it all. There isn’t one MSer who has not hidden behind their smile. And yes we can tell. May you find direction in your life with the help of God and the support of your loved ones and peers. Peace to you my friend.

  1. Lori Hickey says:

    Thank you for such a beautiful message. You have an amazing heart. You are right, my family and friends are my strength and God has my soul.
    Lv Lori

  2. Judy Lynn says:

    So true! I find myself avoiding friends and family when I am really struggling, because I know that my eyes cannot hide it. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Sherri says:

    I know that look in your eyes. Some days I look in the mirror and think what happened?
    The fatigue that we all feel at times can be so overwhelming. Just making dinner for our families can be the day’s final struggle. Some days I feel the energy just drain out of me and it isn’t even 2pm and I am done. But like all of us we have to push to get through the day. If you can keep moving and keep that blood flowing to your brain. Rest when you need to and listen to your body. Thank you for your story Teresa.

    • Teresa Wright-Johnson says:

      Hi Sherri, thanks for your response and encouraging words. I wish you the best and may we all have the strength to endure this battle.

  4. Wildi says:

    Dear Teresa, I have been longing for this article, secretively waiting for someone with the clarity of mind and the courage to pin down those exact words. You are a great messenger. Thank you thank you thank you.

  5. Claire says:

    I was diagnosed in oct 2014 ,and you have made me realise I dont have to wait years for me to starting helping others,you seem to have done so much in your 2 yrs since diagnosed,i also hide behind my smile.thanks for sharing x

    • Teresa Wright-Johnson says:

      Hi Claire. Thank you for your response. In helping and encouraging others I glean strength to carry on. I wish you the best on thus journey.

  6. Steve says:

    I have lived with MS for 35 years, early on I tried hiding my MS symptoms. It was a lot like trying to hold a beach ball underwater, which is tough work and yet everyone can still see the beach ball and what you are doing. Why waste your precious energy on denial of the obvious? I am not talking about blatant advertising, just admitting reality is so much easier than trying to keep the damn ball underwater.

    • Teresa Wright-Johnson says:

      Thank you for your response Steve. This article was written to expose the emotions and occurrences of daily living with MS and Chronic Illness. In addition, it is a plea for others to be empathetic and cognizant of those we know who are fighting this disease. In life itself, there are moments when we have to choose to keep going in the midst of pain and woe. For me that is not denial nor wasted energy. It is strength and an indomitable will. MS is my reality. I will still choose to smile, whenever I can realizing that it may be the encouragement needed for someone else traveling this journey and/or to remind myself that I am a survivor. Best wishes to you on this journey.

  7. Terry Umstead says:

    Thank you so much Teresa! I was diagnosed 29 years ago, and have had to struggle every day as I tried to deny what was happening to me. The last 3 years when I was no longer able to walk, forced an end to that denial. I’ve always been the “strong one” in the family, working to support everyone else’s trials while I kept a supportive smile. You are absolutely correct when you say that you have to choose to keep going in the midst of pain and woe. When MS stole my career, I have chosen to begin a new business, and invest all the finances I had built up over the years. The fear associated with this choice is immense. I made the decision as I was told prior that,” I have MS, but I can not allow MS to have me!” I would be lying if I said I didn’t experience the intense fatigue, the pain, and the inability to walk. Every day I smile through the struggle, and I thank God that I am able to do what I have done to this point. Originally I kept asking God why he would allow me to be in this place, and then he presented me with other adults and children that are in far worse places. May he bless all those that struggle with chronic illness, and may they be led to a relationship with him that supports them in the battle. Thank you so much for your words. You are a blessing.

    • Teresa Wright-Johnson says:

      Terry, thank you so much for that heartfelt response. Your story is touching and is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Congratulations on your new business endeavor and I wish you the best. Continue to fight, have faith and remember that you are not alone. We are more than MS. You too are a blessing. Live well.

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