Leaving that night was bitter-sweet. For my health, I knew I had to leave, but I felt sad and guilty leaving my friends in the dark. But if I’m being honest, I was a little relieved to be heading home. Going to a loud bar, drinking a ton of booze, and dancing all night long should have sounded like a blast, but in reality, it was the last thing I wanted to do. I was having a hard-enough time faking a smile just sitting on the couch, there was no way I could muster up the strength to keep the charade going for an entire night. Instead of forcing myself to stay, I thought up a quick excuse about coming down with the flu, and I said my goodbyes. I suppose I could have just told them the truth, but I just wasn’t ready to share my newly diagnosed chronic illness with everyone. Especially not at a graduation party, what a buzz kill.
Forcing a smile, I reassured everyone that I was fine, just feeling a little under the weather, and I got ready to head home. Before leaving for the two-and-a-half-hour ride, I quickly changed out of my dress and threw on sweatpants and a hoodie. I needed to give my body as much comfort as I could, I knew the ride home was going to be unbearable. After a harrowing ride, I passed out as soon as we got home. In the morning, my parents demanded I call the surgeon and fill him in on what was happening. Terrified it would mean another surgery, I tried to put off making the call. I reasoned that everything would probably just clear up on its own and that I would be fine. My parents were insistent. Nervously, I called the surgeon and explained the pain I was having. I paced around the kitchen, too anxious to sit still. To my dismay, I was scheduled for an outpatient procedure for the beginning of next week. Hearing the news, I collapsed onto a bar stool. Slumped on the counter, I felt like I had gotten the wind knocked out of me. What was happening to me? ANOTHER surgery? It felt like everything was spiraling out of control. How many surgeries was I going to have to have? Why wasn’t I getting any better? I felt helpless.
As soon as I hung up the phone I burst into tears. Why wouldn’t this just end already? My mom rushed over to me and wrapped me up in a hug. She did her best to comfort me, but I was inconsolable. Sobs wracked my body, as my mom rubbed my back. Gently, she reassured me this would be the last surgery, but even then, it felt like a lie. I wanted so badly to believe this was close to being over, but I was too scared to get my hopes up. Deep down, I knew something was really wrong with me. I could feel it in my gut. My dad, in disbelief, blurted out, “Damn, another one? Why does this keep happening?” Almost refusing to believe it was true, he questioned what the surgeon had said. I repeated to him that the abscess had closed and needed to be drained again. I was distraught, I was angry, I was terrified. I didn’t understand what was happening to me. It felt unfair. Why couldn’t the surgeon just fix me? Why wasn’t I getting any better?
Crying in the kitchen, feeling defeated, I put my head down on the counter. To calm down, I forced myself to take three deep breaths. Once I had regained my composure, I wiped my tears and looked at my parents. Looks of worry returned my gaze. “Do you want us to cancel the party?” They implored. No, absolutely not, was my response. I was adamant that the party should go on. I didn’t want to be the reason behind ruining everyone’s good time. Besides, Sarah and Garrett had worked so hard to graduate and were excited about going away to their prospective colleges in the coming fall, they deserved their celebration. I didn’t want to take their big day away from them, that wouldn’t be fair. I refused to let my illness become an overshadowing distraction.
My parents were hard to convince, but I was persistent, and in the end, they didn’t cancel the party. I reassured them that I would be fine, but even then, I knew I was in bad shape. Everything hurt, I couldn’t walk without a limp, and I couldn’t sit without fidgeting relentlessly, trying to find a comfortable position. Anxiously, I worried that everyone at the party would find out about my newly diagnosed illness and that they would find out about my surgeries. It felt like a secret I had to conceal. The last thing I wanted was for everybody to find out. I wasn’t ready for everyone to know such an intimate detail about my life, it was too personal. At this point, I wasn’t even entirely sure what Crohn’s was, or what having it meant, and I wasn’t ready to talk about it with others. On top of that, it would be humiliating having to explain to everyone that I essentially had surgery on my butt. Twice. To assure that nobody at the party found out about my disease and subsequent surgeries, I swore my family to secrecy. Above all, I didn’t want my illness becoming a topic of conversation at the party, I didn’t want to be gossip. With a mindset of, “it’s nobody’s business but my own,” I vowed that it was my body, my disease, my struggle, and it was my decision who was privy to that information. My family agreed.
The morning of the party, I was devastated to find that I didn’t feel any better than I had a few days ago. Despite my better judgment, I had held out hope that I’d make a miraculous recovery. But, of course, I hadn’t. To make matters worse, I noticed that unlike the first time I had surgery, this time the pain never faded, never went away. Refusing to ruin the party because I didn’t feel well, I put on the biggest smile I could manage and got ready to face my friends and family. Despite feeling pretty lousy, I was still determined to have a good time. When my friends and family arrived, I did my best to act normal and be the life of the party. Acting as if everything were fine, I chatted and mingled around the room. I kept it to myself how terrible I was really feeling. Soon, I realized that a bright smile and laughter went a long way. It was a challenge, but I fought through the pain.
To an audience of one, I put on the performance of a lifetime, acting as if I felt fine, like horrible pain wasn’t brewing just beneath the surface. It was a draining performance, smiling and socializing like nothing was wrong. In the end, I did my best to hold out for as long as I could, but eventually I got too tired to fake it any longer, so I snuck upstairs to relax in the bath before having to rejoin the party for the farewells. Before I knew it, I was saying goodbye to my friends and family and settling into pajamas for the night. When the last guest left, I collapsed on the couch, relieved and exhausted. It had been a fun day and I was glad to have powered through it, but I was completely drained and my body throbbed with pain. I couldn’t wait to go to bed and not have to move anymore.
The party had been my first “outing” since getting sick, and through that day, I learned one important thing: makeup was the miracle cure. When you look good, people assume you are feeling good, too. And as quickly as that, makeup became my best friend. I learned that a lot of makeup could quickly cover a pale, fatigued face, and make it easy to trick my family into thinking I felt fine when really, I wasn’t okay at all. It was a lot easier pretending I felt fine than letting my family know how much pain I was really in. I hated the look of worry that settled on their faces when I explained how awful I felt. It made me feel guilty to see them stress over me. All I wanted was for the pain to disappear and for life to go back to normal.
More importantly than learning of my new makeup miracle cure, I realized that I wasn’t going to be a victim of my illness. This day proved it. I was so proud of myself for powering through the day, and not letting the pain get the better of me. I vowed to myself that throughout this whole mess, I wasn’t going to lose myself. I easily could have hidden away in my bedroom, sulking and pouting because I didn’t feel good, but instead, I had risen to the occasion and fought to make it through the day with a smile on my face. I felt like a warrior. I didn’t want Crohn’s to take my sparkle. If I was going to have this disease for the rest of my life, I couldn’t let it control me and force me to miss out on experiencing life. Despite the overwhelming pain I was in, I was happy to have the memories from that day of my friends and family.