What You May Be Missing When You Compare These 2 Faces


When you look at these two pictures, what immediately runs through your mind? I’m guessing words like beautiful, young, healthy and vibrant were adjectives that popped into your head when you viewed the woman on the left.

Chanel White, left, and Lisa Goodman-Helfand

Does seeing the woman on the right conjure up words like sick, contagious, repulsive, ugly and scary? Our brains make snap judgments based on appearance thousands of times each day. How often do we stop and take a moment to reflect on those initial impressions and learn more before we judge?

Chanel is the woman on the left and I (Lisa) am the woman on the right. Chanel and I have never met, but we began reading about one another on our respective blogs (Chanel’s “The Tube-Fed Wife” and my “Comfortable in My Thick Skin“), which depict our lives with chronic autoimmune disease. I hesitated reaching out to Chanel but finally built up the courage and sent her this message:

Hi Chanel-

I’ve known about you for a while, read your posts, loved your writing, admired you greatly, cried for what you go through…. but was terrified to contact you. Why? Because I felt tremendous guilt that I have lived with my chronic disease for 30 years, have two children, a husband, a career, and my disease is currently stable. How could I possibly have the nerve to contact you? I couldn’t think of anything to say that didn’t seem like I was throwing in your face that I’m fortunate to have a “better” diagnosis.” We are only in touch at all because you commented on something I posted. Please respond if you’re interested in talking.

Best,

Lisa

Here’s what Chanel wrote back:

Hi Lisa!

Wow, first let me say how brave you are to write this, and express your honest feelings! I was completely speechless when I read your email, for a reason you may not believe! 

Lisa, you are so amazing! And I want you to know that your journey has inspired me many times! I started reading your blog from your very first post and was amazed by the trials you have overcome. I kept my distance because I felt you had endured so much more than me, and couldn’t possibly relate or want to talk to someone so young and inexperienced with disease! It’s so funny the perspective we build in our heads about others and their view on us!

Let’s Talk Soon,

Chanel

Hi Chanel-

Never in a million years would I have ever imagined you could feel that I have endured more than you! Besides, as I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s not a contest, and if it were, nobody would want to be the winner : )

Lisa

During a brief phone conversation, Chanel explained that at the age of 20, just a few weeks after her honeymoon, she became sick. Three and a half years later, Chanel’s disease has taken a catastrophic toll on her major organs. She suffers from serious vascular, digestive, respiratory and nervous system involvement. She has a feeding tube surgically placed in her abdomen, a central line in her chest, uses supplemental oxygen and is admitted to the hospital every few weeks. When I asked Chanel about her future, she said, “I’m going to take the punches as they come. Who knows? Maybe they’ll come up with a drug that will be my drug — the one that’ll work for me.” I am in awe of Chanel’s strength, courage and positivity. She has so much to teach the world.

I almost missed out on the privilege of getting to know Chanel because I was afraid to reach out. The universe puts up enough hurdles for us. Why do we create additional barriers based on fear? How many times did you miss out on an opportunity to cultivate a relationship because you were afraid or thought you couldn’t possibly have anything in common?

Chanel and I have a lot in common; we both suffer from the same autoimmune disease, scleroderma. We’ve been impacted differently, but we’re both warriors. We each thought the other was “worse off” and felt uncomfortable reaching out. How many cancer patients who haven’t lost their hair feel uncomfortable approaching a bald cancer patient? How many wealthy people feel the same way about approaching a poor person? Whether it be a difference in social status, religion, ethnicity, race or appearance, this scenario plays out in countless ways in our society.

People like Chanel and me fight against misconceptions on a daily basis. Yet even we were guilty of allowing our own preconceived notions about the other to get in our way. I’ve learned many things by reaching out to Chanel, but perhaps the most important is not to use fear as an excuse. If we want people to get to know who we really are, we’ve got to be willing to do it, too. We should not discount what we have to offer someone else, even if we’re not going through precisely the same circumstances.

It’s human nature to make snap judgments about people and gravitate toward people who look like we do, both literally and figuratively. Even so, the next time you meet someone who you deem too fat, skinny, old, young, loud, quiet, pretty, ugly or spotted, remember the story of the two faces you just read about. Think about the beautiful young woman and the weird-looking spotted lady, and then take another look:

Lisa Goodman-Helfand, left, and Chanel White

To learn more about Chanel’s life with scleroderma, check out her blog here.

To learn more about Lisa’s life with scleroderma, check out her blog here.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe a time you saw your disability, illness and/or disease through the eyes of someone else. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected]. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.


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