7 Signs I Might Not Be 'Fine,' Even If I Say I Am

One of the most difficult things about being a TBI survivor is the lack of recognition from people who are “normal” or haven’t experienced disability. I recently had someone who is very close to me lose sight of my reality and daily struggles. He has known me since I was a little girl and has been around since. Before my accident I frequently traveled, attended concerts, went to sporting events and everything in between. After the accident I have spent more time as a recluse than anything. Nowadays, planning a fun event isn’t what it used to be. Any extra amount of exertion comes with consequence and most of all, pain. Over the last six years, I have learned to wear masks in order to live my life and shield others from a reality I believe would leave them overwhelmed.

The truth is, it’s often not easy to be in someone’s life who is chronically ill or disabled. We don’t “get better” at the rate you may expect, and while your lives are moving forward we keep fighting the same war. One of the most loaded questions someone can ask me is “How are you?” A lot of times I don’t even know how to answer that question, nor does the person really want the full answer. No one wants to hear the 20 symptoms I have, and after complaining too much, a person’s empathy tends to desensitize. The general lack of understanding about disability creates a wedge between our realities. So when asked, many of us who chronically struggle with something in life uses the famous “I’m fine” line. But if you look at me, really look at me, you don’t even have to ask me that question. Here are seven signs someone may not be fine even if they say they are.

1. Look at their eyes.

It doesn’t matter what I say out loud, the truth will always be in my eyes. Many things can be determined about someone’s health through their eyes. If you really look at them, you can often tell if something is off. I personally tend to have tired eyes, or I squint more if I am in a lot of pain.

2. Observe their skin color.

If I am having a day where the pain is extreme, it is written all over my skin. I am much paler than I typically am, and no amount of foundation or makeup is about to change that. This is a good clue I am riding the struggle bus and I won’t be participating as I normally would.

3. Evaluate their temperament.

Someone’s mood can give many details about what they are really going through. Are they acting more withdrawn, lose their temper easily, aren’t laughing at jokes they normally would? Even if their behaviors are subtle, they can give many indications to their current condition.

4. Energy level.

I am always an energetic and bubbly person, but if extreme pain or fatigue kicks in, my energy level goes way down. I won’t move near as fluidly or quickly, and I look flat-out tired. You will notice it appears that I am just going through the motions rather than exerting any extra amount of energy.

5. Hygiene.

Hygiene is such a big one. If you come over at my house and I have showered and my hair is done that’s probably a good sign I am doing OK that day. But if you come over and I haven’t showered in five days (yes that has actually happened, eek) and I look like I let myself go, it’s because my symptoms are so outrageous that a shower is way more than I am capable of. However, even in this stinky state, I have said “I’m fine” many times.

6. Zoning out.

When I have maxed out on my pain threshold, I am the queen of zoning out. A lot of times people don’t even realize I am doing it because I have mastered it so well. But those who are close to me can spot the difference. If we are having a conversation and I start giving a lot of generic answers like “OK,” “no way,” “right” this is a good sign that my pain has a harder grip on me than your coffee story. I am trying to be a part of things, but my body has other plans. Another good thing to check for is if someone is easily distracted or “staring off into space.”

7. Food cravings.

If my brain is struggling, I crave sugar like nobody’s business. In the beginning I used to raid the kitchen for ice cream or chocolate just to silence the craving. Or when the pain is severe, I have a hard time even eating meals. I have since learned which nutrients my body is needing for certain cravings, but a change in diet can be a sign  someone may not be doing well.

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