The Mask We Wear with RA
Last updated: November 2022
I was looking through some old photos the other day of me from childhood. I was posed very proudly in an all-plastic, full-body Halloween costume. The costume came with a matching plastic mask. I have seen these photos a hundred times. However, this time I just could not stop staring at the mask.
My "happy face" doesn't mean I'm happy
It just got me thinking about the mask I wear daily living with RA- the “happy face” mask disguised as my smile.
Fear of showing my true feelings
I put it on to protect myself from others. To protect me from the endless verbal comments, advice, and judgments encountered daily. The smile I put on my face is to prevent myself from crying when another customer is verbally assaulting me for using my legally valid handicap permit at a grocery store. That same smile I put on my face when someone who doesn’t live with the disease or has not walked a day in my shoes gives me advice.
I could no longer pretend everything was fine
Honestly, by nature, I tend to be an extremely positive person. However, living with RA for over 18 years has affected how much I find myself putting on my “happy face” mask. That is, until September 2022.
I got sick with COVID and had difficulty breathing. I could not take my RA injection due to the virus, so it affected my ability to take care of myself. I live alone, and it made my recovery extremely difficult. I could barely function, let alone prepare meals.
Retiring my mask
I have not put my “happy face” mask back on since recovering from COVID. For the first time in a long time, my smile is genuine and not just my go-to face for every situation.
I cannot tell you how freeing it is. The mask I originally put on to help preserve energy was draining so much life out of me. Not everyone in my life is elated with seeing my “happy face” mask retire.
Time to put myself first
I’ve started living my life with a renewed sense of purpose to recognize, honor, and support my needs. I am going to feel my feelings, voice my opinions and continue to share my life experiences on a level I haven't done before, even if that makes others in my life uncomfortable.
Life isn’t always about being comfortable. No one voluntarily signs up to live their life with a chronic and debilitating illness like RA. However, here I am, signed up and experiencing a very altered and uncomfortable life at times. I know, unfortunately, I am not alone in this.
Do you wear a mask?
I wrote this article because it wasn’t until very recently that I realized the extent to which I wore my “happy mask.” I am just wondering if any of you feel like you wear a mask daily, too, and if so, what does your mask look like?
Did you know rheumatologist Dr. Donica Baker is answering community questions?
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