themighty logo

Please Stop Telling Me How Sick I Look


Please stop telling me I look unwell. Or “so sick,” “very ill,” “exhausted,” “not good” or anything along those lines. First, no one ever wants to hear that. Second, do you think I don’t already know that I look unwell? I spend my morning sorting through my closet trying to find the one piece of clothing that doesn’t make me look ghostly pale and ashy. I try to do my hair to give me some semblance of being put together, but yet, I still don’t look well. My clothes don’t fit; they either hang limply around my frail body after weeks of exhaustion and not eating or are too tight due to retaining water, an unwanted side effect of a new medication. I know what I look like, you don’t have to point it out. Unless your comment of “you don’t look well” is followed by “you should go home to rest” or “please take the day off to rest your body,” then there is absolutely no good coming from it.

I know what I look like and I know it’s not good. I know my skin has lost its youthful glow; it is now replaced with a sallow pallor, the bags under my eyes are so dark that even the best concealer does no good, there is no rosiness to my cheeks or glimmer in my eye. And I know this. I see it every day in the mirror, despite my best attempts to avoid reflective surfaces. I choose my clothing not by what makes me feel best, but by what colors make me look not so ill and pale. I splash cold water on my face to relieve the puffiness and soothe my swollen, baggy eyes. I’m truly exhausted, and I look it. I used to be ashamed but now I am too tired to care. I look this way because my body is failing me. Every time you tell me I look unwell, it is an unwelcome reminder that the world sees how much I am suffering.

You see, the thing about chronic illness is that you tend to keep your suffering to yourself. I keep my trials and tribulations hidden away and quiet. Only my closest circle really knows what is going on. When you point out how unwell I look, you are bringing all of my vulnerability to light. I usually can hide away when I look like this. I can take a day off to rest and recoup or lay in bed all weekend to regain some energy for the week ahead. But, not this time. This new diagnosis isn’t affording me that luxury. Weekends in bed to rest are not enough. One day off here or there is not enough. Why has this changed? Because on top of my other chronic illnesses, I have now been diagnosed with neurocardiogenic syncope. My heart and brain do not communicate effectively, leading to my heart randomly speeding up to unhealthy levels or completely stopping without warning. My new reason for looking so unwell is because my heart completely stopped, seven times total, in the past few months.

So I am not working through my normal symptoms and pains. I have new symptoms, medications and a new look of being sick. You see, chronic pain can often leave me looking tired, but it doesn’t zap me of all color and life. Sure, I may have bags under my eyes and move a little slower, but the level of fatigue and exhaustion I am experiencing now is on a different level than anything I have ever endured before. I look in the mirror and see a vampire. Sunken eyes and pale skin. Pure exhaustion. I look void of any life force, my skin has an overall pallor that makes me look like I should be bed bound. All the color is drained from my cheeks and my lips and there is not glint in my eye, they are dull and red, and so tired. But your comments telling me I look unwell are unnecessary and unneeded, I know I look unwell and I don’t need reminding. Unless they are followed by a suggestion or offer of rest and respite, there is no constructive use in you telling me how sick I look.

You would think I would be grateful for looking sick right now since many chronic illness warriors often look “normal” and this is usually one of our biggest complaints. We look seemingly normal to everyone, though we may be suffering daily. I would have thought I would be grateful that I finally look the part I have been playing for 12 years, but I’m not. Right now, I would give almost anything to hear that I don’t look sick, to fade back into the “normalcy” that was my life pre-heart condition. Because for once in my life, I feel so sick but I also look the part.

Getty Image by panic_attack