I am sure that anyone who has dealt with or is dealing with any form of chronic illness can relate it to having an elephant right there with them in a social situation. Even medical situations such as the hospital, doctor’s office, etc. can produce stigma the size of a pachyderm.
You think that you are hiding symptoms well; however, the more you try to hide, it keeps getting bigger and harder to ignore. “It” can be a pain, depression, anxiety, internal problems, and just about anything else.
I have learned to own my elephant and introduce it to whoever is with me before they bring it up. This seems to break the ice and gives them a chance to ask questions or walk away. I have had people do both and I am fine with it because at least I am honest and open.
But it wasn’t always like that. I was brought up to hide things that were outside of the “norm.”This included my IBS, anxiety over being bullied, cramps (and everything that went with them – it was “the flu” which I had once a month), and even my migraines. I really believe that all this hiding contributed to several more physical conditions and my bipolar/depression.
These days it really cuts me to the bone to see young people trying to hide or ignore their elephants. And the treatment given at ER’s…well I think you all know my stance on that.
A young woman I met recently shared with me that she suffers from Anxiety Disorder. When I told her I did too she said, “but you are older, I am only 16.” To which I replied, “I was first depressed when I was 8 and at 16 developed anxiety and bipolar.” She instantly relaxed and now talks to me every chance she gets.
This not to say that naming your elephant doesn’t sometimes bring consequences. I have shared information about my chronic illnesses only to have it thrown back in my face. However, this usually makes me stronger and I have learned to wipe it off and keep on going. It means THEY are the ones that are intimidated by the elephant.
Personally, I have always considered elephants to be beautiful and majestic animals with strength and grace. I know it is hard to think of your illnesses in that light; however, if you see yourself that way, others will do the same and the elephant will fade into the corner.