For so many of us with chronic illnesses, people tell us “You look great!” “You look good today!” “You must be getting better!” “You look so healthy!” Many times it cannot be further from the truth, and since our high-spirited attitudes may seem like we’re soaring through life, people say things that seem nice, but actually insult us. Most of the time it’s because many people don’t know what exactly to say or how to act. Here are some ways to respond to all of the similar quotes listed above.
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1. If someone says you look good, you can simply say thank you and move on. This is probably one of the easiest ways to answer “You look so good!” However, your answer may be incredibly deceiving. If it is a person who you rarely see and just walk by, saying thank you and not going into detail is a good option. However, for people you see on a more regular basis, this may start to get more annoying, as you may look good but feel quite the opposite.
2. Tell a small bit of the truth, but nothing overwhelming. Sometimes it’s good to be honest, especially with people you know well, see often, and people who care about you, but simply don’t understand. Saying you’re good when you’re not is not going to help someone understand. When somebody says how fantastic you look, or how much energy you seem to have, don’t feel bad about giving people a glimpse of your reality. When someone tells me I look healthy or my skin looks bright I sometimes say, “Well to tell you the truth, a little makeup goes a long way. And to be honest, I look fine because I’m in clothes and out of the house, but that doesn’t take away the fact that I’ve been dealing with really hard nights and lots of seizures.” I try to put a small example of what I’m going through at that moment to tell people so they hopefully realize it is not all sunshine and butterflies, but I keep the energy light and easy going.3. You could have a real, deep talk about your current situation and all the stress that is going on in your life. This option depends on the person and the instance , but sometimes I have the chance to tell people more details about what I go through, and I do it. I told one parent about my weekly IVIG infusions through my port, and she started getting interested in Lyme and my treatment and asked questions. I have no problem answering questions. For close friends, family, or people you work with, it isn’t always best to hide the truth, especially if you’ve gone through a particularly difficult time.
For example, I am a gymnastics coach, and I missed a whole week of coaching due to being in the hospital. When I came back in, a parent said “We’ve been wondering where you were this week!” I used this time to explain that I was in the hospital, why I was there, and that I was very sick. That helped her go from being overexcited to more of a real idea of what was going on and why I wasn’t there. However, I always mention how great it is to be back, because it is!
4. There are plenty of vague statements that make a point on their own. Such statements include:
I look good, but it’s not how I feel on the inside.
I wish I felt as good as I looked.
It’s hard because it’s impossible to see some physical symptoms.
It takes me all day just to pull myself together!
I may look good, but my illnesses are still present.
I may not look sick but I still am sick.
5. Remember, most of the time, those who tell us we “look so good” and “don’t look sick” are often trying to compliment us. From the receiving end, it can feel like people are disregarding our illness, disease, or disorder. When people cannot relate to others with a chronic illness, they often may not know what to say, and they might think this is something nice to say. However, if it is really bothering you, don’t be afraid to speak up. If you can’t say it in person, send a text. You can speak up and tell someone that although you know they’re trying to be nice, that their responses are counterproductive and explain why it makes you feel that way. If people realize you don’t like being told “you look so good” because they don’t realize you look like a zombie until you put on makeup and cannot get out of bed until 4, they’ll likely stop saying such comments. You probably do not want to talk about your illness 24/7. Turn the conversation to them and start asking questions or small talk about their life to keep all the attention off you.
We may not look sick, but our bodies, medical bills, endless doctor’s appointments and medications tell a different story.
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You can handle these questions in multiple ways depending on the age of the person, situation, and how comfortable you are with them. But if you really want them to understand more, you really have to open up about some of your experiences and problems. Without information you cannot expect any person to understand or know what you are going through. When people see how difficult and deceiving it is “to look good,” they may just start to understand — and want to understand more than just the surface.