Let's Put on a Show!

Recently I drove a friend of mine to a doctor’s appointment. She was having a really crappy day, riddled with a week-long respiratory infection and muscle pain.  When she was with me, she was able to moan and groan and let her outside self reflect what was happening on the inside.

Then she had to make an appearance at work, and her tune changed.  She greeted her class with joy (though somewhat subdued, one who knows her well might note).  She moved about the classroom pretty fluidly—any twinges of pain would be missed by the casual observer.  She was able to keep up the show for an hour or so.

When we met up again later so I could drive her home, it was as if the mask had fallen off completely. She was wiped out, totally exhausted not only by her illness but by her efforts to function at a much higher level than her illness wanted her to.

It reminded me immediately of the many, many times in my life when I’ve felt like total crap but chose to inhabit the role of Healthy Janet. One of the days I was asked to present at a conference (this one during graduate school), I woke up with a throbbing and utterly distracting migraine.  I took my medication, but it wasn’t kicking in, and I knew that I couldn’t take a second dose until a full two hours after the first one.  Regular readers will know that I am a big advocate for taking the time off that you need to, for putting self-care first.  But most of us know that there are exceptions to this rule.  For me, presenting for an hour at this conference was one such exception.

Somewhat glassy-eyed and more than a tiny bit out of it, I presented a poster in an educational session with about thirty people watching and listening.  If anyone I knew well was in the room, he/she would’ve known pretty soon after I began speaking that I wasn’t feeling well.  Thankfully, the room was full of polite and interested strangers, and not one of them gave the impression that I was acting weird. In fact, I did a killer job, presenting my research and findings without incident.  I cut the Q&A session short, blaming the conference’s tight schedule while knowing in full that we had enough time for more questions—it was just that I didn’t have enough functioning brain cells remaining to keep up the facade for long.

By the time I packed up my computer and left the room, it felt like the migraine had returned with a vengeance.  Having made the two-hour mark since my last dose, I popped another triptan pill and chugged a cup of water.  I then made my way to the car and safely made it home.  For the rest of the day (and part of the next), I was a total zombie.  I felt as if I had cashed in all my Appearing in Public Looking Somewhat Normal chips and was repaying my migraine brain tenfold.

Over the years, I have had fewer and fewer days where I felt the need to perform in the role of Healthy Janet for such a sustained time, but it does happen occasionally that I choose to be like my friend: totally sick and beat down one second, up and at ’em the next.  Every time I do it, I feel so much more run down in the end.

Have you ever been in a situation where you chose to “put on a show,” acting as if you had no migraine (or at least acting as if your migraine wasn’t nearly as bad as it really was)? 

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