Something funny happened yesterday. I have been working to provide perspective and help us all focus on meeting people where they are, uncovering hidden stories behind the masks we wear in public, and working toward non-judgement. I wanted to post a headshot so you would know who I am and have my face to connect with what you read. When I post a photo, the web platform I use suggests hashtags to make my posts searchable. So here’s the funny part. The first suggested hashtag was "headshot." You’ll never guess what the second was, and I’m grinning as I write this…
Seriously, that was the second thing this smart technology picked up as significant about my face. I laughed out loud. I’m still giggling today when I think about that. As a woman in my mid 50’s, who has lived my life, I’m proud of every one of those wrinkles. I’m also proud of my scars. I have plenty of those too.
My wrinkles and scars are a testament to a life well lived. Each visible physical imperfection is a badge of honor, a battle scar, and an outward facing sign of inner strength.
So, since I’m writing about hidden stories and what makes each individual special, I suppose it is time to share a tiny bit of my own backstory. Sharing our hidden stories can make us feel vulnerable, and I will admit, I am experiencing that feeling now. I’m putting this out there for the world to see.
When I was seven years old, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. It is an autoimmune disease that attacks the digestive system. I have no memory of a time when I didn’t have a hidden chronic illness. However, my diagnosis never got in my way of achieving. I was a sick child, with many physical issues. I missed a lot of school. I had trouble making friends. This helped a shy introverted child become an even more introverted young adult. I’ve never been able to keep a traditional job. Health always got in my way. Medications today keep improving and so does my quality of life. For that I’m grateful. I’ve also learned to push myself socially to connect with others.
Through a cancer diagnosis, surgery, and treatment, through more surgeries to reduce scar tissue, through a diagnosis of Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC) a second chronic illness which is a liver disease, I have had my ups and downs with my health. Sometimes I’m sidelined. Most of the time though, I am happy to use my brain and to connect with others. I’ve have built and run successful small businesses that have changed over time due to my physical limitations. I’ve also raised four children, who are amazing young people, and I’ve done it mostly by myself. Not everyone views me as successful. I’ve followed a very non-traditional path. I have found ways to work, though, often more than 40 hours a week. I just know that I need a little flexibility in my schedule to do my best work and stay healthy.
Through it all, I am independent, and I believe a successful woman. I am an entrepreneur. I have proven that I can reinvent myself as my life and my health needs change. I am strong. I have been described many times as small but mighty. Personally, I love that. Would I change my life to have a physically sound body? I’m not sure. While it would be awesome to be able to do some things that I can’t do, like run a marathon, I believe that I never would be who I am without my backstory. I’m grateful that I’m alive to enjoy my scars and wrinkles.
Why do our hidden stories make us feel vulnerable? Is it embarrassment? Fear? I think we keep much of ourselves hidden because of fear of being judged. Are you judging me? What am I really afraid will happen because I shared this story? Nothing. I’m not afraid at all. I hope that you see that our history, our differences, our struggles make us unique and interesting and strong.