halloweencostumesIt’s coming up on that time of year again, the one where people generously give presents to children all over the country simply for being festive. No, I’m not talking about Christmas, it’s Halloween I’m talking about. Halloween was always one of my favorite holidays, although it is much different now than from when I was young. That can be said about most things these days, though. Even so, Halloween was special.

Being a part of CreakyJoints and many other autoimmune communities, I like to think I have at least a decent idea of the things that other sufferers have gone through in their lifetimes. After gleaning this knowledge, I realize that my childhood was unique in the fact that the friends I had instantly accepted my disease and its many shortcomings. They were always, and are still always there for me – and it wasn’t until recently that I truly appreciated how much that means. Many of the people I talk to who suffer from autoimmune disease have trouble finding friends who can easily deal with the idiosyncrasies of being close to someone who is disabled. Being different can be rewarding at times, but it usually means more heartache than constitutes a fair share. It’s a shame, for sure, but it’s also why I consider Halloween to be the perfect holiday for anyone who suffers from autoimmune illness, or disability, or any of a host of other differences. Why? Masks.

When I was a child, Halloween was a grand affair. We had a grade-wide parade if it was on a school day, and the costumes, oh the costumes – they were exquisite. Even though younger kids today still dress up, it seems to have lost a certain “je ne sais quoi,” a nuance that has disappeared in today’s world of pre-assembled costumes. Despite the reduction in enthusiasm, though, Halloween can still provide a fantastic opportunity for people like me to spend a day where no one knows how different you are.

Costumes are a funny thing. They are a living irony, in fact. Wearing a mask makes us someone different, someone false, or, at least, it’s supposed to. Frequently, though, a very interesting phenomenon happens when someone is given a sense of anonymity. Many times, wearing a mask results in someone being more honest, more real, and they end up revealing their true selves. When we don’t have to look someone else in the eye, even if they are standing a few feet away, it somehow makes us less worried about ridicule and the repercussions of our actions. This has a two-fold effect for people who are disabled.

There’s no denying that kids are mean, and school can be especially difficult for a child who is disabled. In addition, anyone who has grown up with illness can tell you that once you are branded in school as an outcast, that black mark follows you for years to come. The worst part about it is that when you are one-on-one with your classmates, they treat you like a human being, but when there is any fear of embarrassment in a group, the pack can turn on you like jackals after a hunt. Well, Halloween changes that dynamic. When there is less fear of reprisals from peers, kids are much more likely to treat those who are different like they are just one of the crew, a regular classmate with no obvious disability. It gives much-needed respite to anyone who has to deal with daily fears of ostracism.

In addition, Halloween offers a fantastic opportunity for anyone who is physically different to blend in without being identified. Even if the person has a pronounced limp or a missing limb, a costume can be designed that includes the disability as a facet of the design. For instance, a pirate costume with a hook hand for someone who is missing a hand. It is the perfect day for someone easily identified as being different to hide in plain sight. Sure, your classmates and others know who are you, but there’s a suspension of disbelief, if you will, that lasts only for that day, October 31, and you don’t need to worry about your obvious handicap being instantly broadcasts to everyone you see. Halloween is one of the few days each year that people like me don’t have to worry about being judged by our visible shortcomings before we are even able to get one word out. Those of you who don’t have to deal with a physical disability may not fully understand how much of a burden being viewed as “sick,” or “handicapped,” can be. As we has discussed before, the results can be hilarious, but they can also be tragic.

Halloween was and still is one of my favorite days of the year. As I said, it has lost some of its popularity and glitter in today’s online, instant-gratification, world, but that doesn’t mean it has totally lost its attraction. Even though I haven’t been to a costume party in years, I still put on a wig or some wacky apparel and give the kids who come to the door a good laugh or a good scare. Just remember, though, Halloween is a godsend for a disabled child, and I always looked forward to it when I was young. Age eight or eighty, though, there is no denying that people who are wearing a mask are often the ones who show the most truthful side of themselves.