Growing up, I was the girl who wanted to play with your crutches. I wanted to test out the wheelchair. I wanted glasses, braces, and for-the-love-of-god a cast my friends could sign. Band-aids, stitches, scars. Ace bandages, splints. It wasn’t a preternatural obsession with health and healing, but a way to secure attention. That’s what I wanted. Hell, that’s what I still want sometimes. The difference now is that I know the term “histrionics.” I think I visibly blushed when I first read the definition of that word in a psychology class. Nervously looking around, wondering if that truth was a blinking neon sign over my head.
histrionics - a deliberate display of emotion (or crutches) for effect
Pretty simple, right? In fact, I don’t have most of the characteristics of Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD), just a few of the trademark attention-seeking traits. My constant wish for an ailment in my youth was an extension of this behavior. I wanted people to notice me, and more importantly, to pity me. If I could get them to feel sorry for me, they might love me by default. They would see right past the glaring flaws to the victim who should be loved and cherished. They wouldn’t have high expectations for me.
Fast forward a few years. I’m a sophomore in college, opened up like a sponge to everything – the books, the music, the people who looked and talked differently from me, the freedom. Living. Learning. Then, histrionics came true. Spring semester of my sophomore year, I started feeling dizzy and disoriented. My eyes were sensitive to light. Black letters on white paper jumped around and I couldn’t seem to focus on things as they moved by. Three weeks and a hospital stay later, I was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. I could write posts upon posts about my so-far seven year journey with this disease (and I just might), but for now I want to point out the irony of the histrionics-girl who finally got her chronic illness. And so far, my illness is 100% concealable. Let that sink in a moment.
I tell you this now because I don’t want to run the risk of letting the histrionics take over. I could write you a sob story about being robbed of my youth, my opportunities, and my confidence. All of these things are true in part – but none of them represents the whole truth. The truth is I’ve been so damned fortunate that sometimes I can’t wrap my mind around it. We’ll get to that later, too.
So I’m 19, I’m armed with this diagnosis – my weapon against people who would judge me for anything. See? I’m the sick girl. You can’t ask me to fully participate. Oh, I made a mistake? I’m sorry but you seem to be forgetting that I HAVE A DISEASE. No, no, it’s okay. You couldn’t have known. There is no way for you to understand. I admit that I never used discretion in telling people about my MS for the first year or so after my diagnosis. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but in that time it became a tool I used to garner sympathy. I only know now what I was doing because I can recognize that I knew nothing about MS and had made no emotional progress with the diagnosis. I didn’t understand it in the slightest. It was only when I began to understand that I clamped up. This truth is too, too close for me to so carelessly disclose. In that first year after my diagnosis, I wrote journal entry after the next about how I was climbing a mountain. I gave voice to some of the surface fears, but mostly I wrote blueprints on coming to terms with it. I hadn’t even begun to take a step in that direction. I still believed it was happening to someone else.
A couple of years in, I started to see the irony of the whole thing. The attention-seeker in me finally had an answer to that tragically misguided, unspoken prayer. But instead of giving me that free pass to love and sympathy, it instead presented a moral challenge. Did I really want to use this misfortune in such a way? Could I even do it now that I’d made some progress toward acceptance?
The answer, of course, was no. Absolutely not. And since that time I have probably gone out of my way to conceal my MS whenever I could, whenever it was prudent. I recently told a friend after about a year of knowing her. She was shocked, naturally. She’d had no idea. I liked that. Now, instead of the sympathy I could gain from being a pity case, I prefer the shock of revelation. Either way, you see, I’m seeking control, right? So, I’m not perfect. But at least I’m not histrionics girl anymore.