If you had to look a loved one square in the eyes and lie, could you do it? Do you think you would hesitate a bit, or would the lie roll right off your tongue? You’re probably thinking, “it depends on the type of lie we are talking about”, or “it depends on the reason I am lying”. So let’s keep it easy. Let’s assume you just have to tell your loved one a little white lie. I know you remember as a kid distinguishing between “white lies” and “other lies”. White lies were for things like, “no I didn’t eat the last cookie”. Or, “oh no, I’m not sleepy, I was just blinking slowly”. Let’s also assume that the reason for the lie is simply to protect a secret that you have. Could you do it now? Could you look your parent, child, or spouse square in the eyes and lie? Well, there was a time I could do it without hesitation. Now, before you get all Judgy McJudgerson, hear me out.
Growing up, I used to watch reruns of The Adventures of Superman. I thought it was so cool how Clark Kent became Superman by simply going into a phone booth, changing clothes, and taking off his glasses. But, even as a kid, I was confused how no one seemed to know (not even Lois Lane who saw him everyday) that Clark Kent was also Superman. I mean come on, all he did was take off his glasses and change clothes. I know it was the 80s and production budgets were small, but good grief. Anyway, I loved the show because while Clarke Kent and Superman were the same person, he had two separate lives. Clark Kent had this dull existence, if you will, working at a newspaper. He was often belittled by his boss and overlooked by almost everyone. Superman, on the other hand, had such an exciting action packed life. Superman was also hard to ignore. Women loved him and wanted to be with him, and men admired him. But, despite the stark differences between the lives, there was overlap with particular people. For example, Lois Lane. She had to interact with both Clark Kent and Superman….yet never realized they were the same person. Seriously, how did that work?
As a wife, mother, and working professional battling chronic illness, I feel like Clark Kent at times…without the endless energy, phone booth, glasses, cool background music, and superhero persona celebrated by the world. But for those things, I totally get my Clark Kent on. For example, I go to great lengths to still be the intelligent, strong, funny, sexy, opinionated woman my husband married, despite my illnesses. To accomplish this, I am very guarded about the details I share about my illnesses.
For years I actually hid the true extent of my illnesses. My husband has done the laundry in our house for the past 5 years. After 10 years of marriage and 17 years together total, I STILL hide my dirty underwear from him. Twice a week he rounds up all the dirty laundry in the house and every time he reaches the hamper in the master bedroom, its the same reaction, “SERIOUSLY”. The poor man probably thinks I am just walking around letting all my booty hang out. I’m sure he’s still trying to figure out how going commando fits with having crohn’s…it doesn’t.
Back in August 2011, five short months after my crohn’s diagnosis, my husband and I took a trip to Florida. At the time, the idea seemed brilliant. But, looking back with 35 year old eyes…dumb. When we boarded the plane for our trip, I was very sick and fatigued but refused to let on. I had recently started an oral chemo medicine called 6mp, that made me nauseous and completely drained all my energy. The medicine also made my skin very sensitive to the sun. Despite how I was feeling, I had mentally prepared myself to do whatever was necessary to not ruin the trip. In my mind, we had earned and needed that trip.
My husband and I were in Florida for a week, and LITERALLY ran around the city from 8am until 1am the next day…our entire trip. Every morning I woke up and made breakfast, and every evening I stayed up with my husband watching movies until around 1am. We spent several days in the sun shopping for 10-12 hours straight, and exploring Disney World and Animal Kingdom. It touched my heart one night during dinner when my husband looked at me, smiled, and said, “you are doing so well on the new meds, it feels like I have the old you back.” Typing these words just now brought tears to my eyes. See, my husband had two lives sitting right in front of him and had no idea. He was Lois Lane, and I was Clark Kent. But unlike like Superman who was praised and celebrated when he showed up, only one of my lives could be shown to the world. So, the same woman that shopped all day with with my husband in the hot sun, cried in pain in the bathroom when he thought she was just freshening up. The woman that got up at 7am to cook breakfast despite going to bed at 1am, iced her limbs and took steroids to decrease the inflammation while he slept. The woman that made love to him in the early morning hours almost every day of our trip, cried in the bathtub alone waiting from her pain meds to kick in while he slept peacefully.
As you probably guessed, trying to lead a double life didn’t end well. A few hours after we returned home from our trip, I was rushed to the hospital unable to keep anything down and barely able to stand. I was admitted to the hospital for 6 days for a flare and dehydration. I can still see the sadness in my husband’s eyes and hear the hurt in his voice as he sat on the hospital bed, held my hand, and said “why would you hide all of this, why wouldn’t you tell me you weren’t feeling well…for days you hid.” Sadly, I couldn’t answer his questions. I wasn’t prepared to tell him that maintaining what I believed was his view of me as his wife, was much more important to me than my actual health. There was no way in the world that I would tell him that I didn’t understand how he couldn’t see what unfolded right before his eyes. I couldn’t tell him that every single time he asked me how I was doing and I said “good”, I lied. So, I looked him in his eyes and simply said “I don’t know”. Fortunately, my husband’s questions that day were rhetorical. He wasn’t looking for me to respond, because he knew exactly why I did what I did.
Friends, my husband and I learned a lot from that situation. He learned that healthy boundaries are important to me in this battle with chronic illness. He also learned that while I am a horrible liar, I am great at sneaking around. I learned that I am a terrible liar, sneaking around is extremely exhausting, and I need to make better food choices because he will not stop looking for my panties. I also learned that I cannot use a double life to avoid addressing my reality. Now, understand that I do not profess to have it all together as I type this blog today. I still struggle with being completely transparent about my illness…particularly being transparent with those closest to me. I can tell you that as long as I breath and have working limbs, my husband will continue to wonder about my dirty underwear. There are just some things I will keep for only me. When I started a new crohn’s treatment that requires a once a week injection, I refused to let me husband do my injections. I believe that healthy boundaries are important, and I am not ashamed to say I have a complex about transitioning from wife to patient in his eyes. But, I am now aware that the double life I sought to create, was really an oxymoron. As much as I tried to create separate lives to keep my illness from intruding on my daily life or impacting the people I love, that was an impossible task. In fact, attempting to do it was pretty dangerous. I still don’t know why that ever seemed possible anyway. Its not, and that is just due to simple math. I am one person…so I can only have one life.