You Don’t Look Sick
One of the many things that I’ve observed in the nearly 3 years since I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and congestive heart failure is that people just can’t seem to believe that there’s anything wrong with me because they can’t see it. I mention all of the various health issues I face and the responses I hear more often than not are “Wow, you don’t look sick!” or “Well, you look great!”. And I always hear “You’re too young to have that”, but that’s a rant for another time.
The simple truth is that I don’t look sick. And unless you know me, and my story, you’d have no reason to suspect that I’m living with multiple chronic health issues. People living with diabetes, heart disease, and any one of a number of chronic health issues look just like everyone else. We don’t have a look. And we are just like everyone else; we are human beings, with ten fingers and ten toes, we go to work and to school, we play sports, etc… And just like everyone else, we have feelings. And sometimes, those well intended comments of “You look great” or “You don’t look sick” really hurt our feelings. They certainly do mine.
When I hear you say those words, that “thank you” that may hesitantly escape my mouth is not necessarily the true response that is brewing in my heart. Behind the wall that goes up to shield myself from your comments, my mind and heart are screaming. I wish that, just for a moment, you could feel the pain that I feel in living with these diseases. You say I look great, and I think, yeah, for the shape I’m in. I wish you could see what I see when I look at myself in the mirror, when I see the changes that have taken place since my diagnosis. While you may not see anything wrong with me, I see a painful reminder of what I face each day.
Many days, I just don’t have it in me to respond to those comments as I would like. And more often than not, I realize that it would do me no good to try to educate you anyway. So, I agree with you and thank you for the kind words, and let you go off feeling good about yourself, all the while knowing that the joke is really on you.
Yes, I may not look sick, and I may look great, but just like the appearance that you know all there is to know about diabetes and congestive heart failure, because you heard via some third hand stories that a family member you never met once lived with them, those looks are most definitely deceiving.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for sticking with me through my little rant. Please know that this is not directed at anyone in particular. I just needed to get those thoughts out of my head and I feel much better having done so.
I remember shortly after my diagnosis (Type 1, Feb. 2010) I used to get compliments ALL THE TIME about how great I looked. Yes, that massive weight loss did improve my looks, but the cause was absolutely not worth it. I always replied to those compliments with a “Thanks, but it came at a high price” or something to that effect.
It’s too bad what we look like on the outside so often has little to do with what’s going on inside, although sometimes it’s a blessing too.
I can’t count how many times I have heard such comments, which often launches me into feeling the need to educate – only to realize as their eyes quickly glaze over, they don’t really want to hear about it anyway. I guess it’s their loss.
My husband has often said to me, after someone exclaims that he doesn’t look blind, that it doesn’t make him any less blind. But if, in fact he may not look blind, people are less likely to offer him the assistance he may need from time to time.
Should we (the communities of people afflicted) answer instead, “Well, most of us do. It’s not like the Devil puts a brand on our foreheads the second a lab test comes back positive or anything…”
Mike, you said it so well. Just because you can’t SEE diabetes (or other chronic health issues) doesn’t mean they aren’t there all of the time. My own mother lives with chronic pain and she always has trouble getting people to understand that just because she doesn’t look like she’s in pain doesn’t mean she isn’t. But I think it’s helped both me and her to understand each other because we both deal with “invisible” illnesses.
Well said, Mike. So often I’m in that same boat, in not wanting to make the effort to educate or advocate. But the response that most often comes to my mind is: “Thanks, and you really don’t look as stupid as I know you actually are.”