There are times I’d like to be incognito, be someplace where I might not stand out. Anne Donovan

When my health issues started I was working from home. I just had to say goodbye to the acquaintances I’ve met during my first years in Madrid. It was not something I really wanted to do, but people tend to have difficulties believing that your life has turned 180 degrees when you just look normal. I didn’t have to make real friends that rooted for me and understood what I could and couldn’t do. I was still in denial of what I could do so I don’t blame them.

Dining at restaurants and drinks outside suddenly stopped being an option. It was an incredibly hard change, saying goodbye to most of my social life, but there were still things that I could do. Once I gained some weight and strength again I went back to swing dancing and pilates classes. As those activities didn’t include eating out, I was still granted a grade of normality, with I held on to.

After my initial time of grieving, I got used to my new reality, and in some scenarios, I was able to blend with the rest, be incognito. Be normal.

Then last year I had to change jobs and had to go back to an office. It was excruciatingly exhausting. One of my problems is fatigue. It’s there, even if people don’t see it. I need to sleep a lot, and instead of sacrificing hours of sleep like normal people, I have to sacrifice my leisure time to sleep almost enough. With going to an office from 9 to six plus the hour and a half of commuting, my days were reduced to little more than work, cook, and sleep. I performed well at work and was good at what I was doing. My meals were usually healthier and more elaborate than the ones of my colleagues, but I seemed normal. I was only dying inside, and that job was killing me.

After 4 months of crying and exhaustion, I found my ideal job: working from home for a hosting company, with a young environment, and chances of growth. The only downside was that I had to travel for a month to the USA for training, and that I was going to be required to travel every 3 months for business retreats. Don’t get me wrong: I was super excited about that, I love traveling! But I was rusty, I hadn’t traveled for years due to my ailments, and the fact that I need to control what I eat. Being allergic to simple things like apples, carrots, tomatoes, or wheat doesn’t make traveling easy. I survived, cooked a lot in my hotel room, and got back home changed. It was a real challenge, and I’d overcome it.

But I’m not in incognito any more. Every time I have to travel for work I need to mention my special needs, again and again, talking about what happens to me, when even doctors don’t know all of it. I’ve been told to be a picky eater, and I got pity glances again and again. This time I’m not even staying at a hotel with a kitchenette, and the planning and intrigue are making me anxious. I hate to ask for special treatment, maybe because I’m an introvert, maybe because I’m still in denial and I believe one day I’ll be free from my limitations. I’m sometimes socially awkward, and opening my lunch box when everybody is getting catered food makes me want to crawl under the table. Explaining again and again what I can and can’t eat is making me be in the spotlight. And I hate it.


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