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Please Stop Unintentionally Complimenting My Disease


In April, I came back to work after being in the hospital for the second time in two months. My kidneys had failed the first time, and they replaced my ureter stents with new ones. But it seems those developed a staph infection I had been walking about with for a month. During that I time, I barely ate. I don’t do well eating when I don’t feel well. It’s like World War III sometimes with my mom when I’m sick because she believes food heals, and I think everything is the equivalent to chewing on an old tire.

I managed to eat a little before coming back to work, but I was taking it slow. My back was still killing me.

So I came into work, and suddenly everyone was around me complimenting me on my weight loss and hair. I looked great.

This really, really bothered me so I smiled, grabbed my stuff and went and hid in my office.

I called one of my best friends and asked her about it. She told me she saw the picture I posted and was going to tell me the opposite: that I had lost way too much weight too fast. I took a breath of relief.

She didn’t like what had happened either and her argument was strong to me: you wouldn’t want to trigger someone with an eating disorder by talking about their weight or appearance, why would you do that to someone with a chronic disease?

Why are you praising what infection and pain did to my body?

I don’t think people really understand that part.

I didn’t “earn” this through working out or eating right. It happened because my organs were shutting down and then I had an infection running around in my abdomen.

You’re praising the illness, that thing that’s hurting me.

I mean, I get that it’s nice to hear you look good or you’re beautiful, but when you suffer silent pain, it feels as if your mind fractures. You slowly begin to doubt yourself and what you’re feeling. You begin to try to push through and end up creating more damage. You feel like a liar or a baby because you are struggling to handle what’s going on inside.

When I went to this most recent hospital trip a week ago, I was told I didn’t look so bad when I arrived. And I felt stupid. I wanted to turn around and go home. The one nurse said I looked fine.

But another EMT grabbed my arm and looked at me and said, “She’s not fine. She’s got a fever. You just have to pay attention. You can tell she’s really sick.”

It was a breath of relief. But still, in the back of my mind, it kept playing out that I looked fine so I must be fine.

Look, compliments are lovely, and I understand people try to be supportive. But please don’t default to my appearance and use it as some sort of indicator for what’s going on inside. Outside I may look good with makeup and some fitting clothes, but inside it’s like Chernobyl. Just listen and try to understand what a person is saying about how they feel, or ask them how they feel before telling them they look a sort of way.

You never know what someone is struggling with. What could be construed as a sweet compliment can cause damage if a person is suffering from invisible pain.

Just please, don’t compliment my disease.

Getty image by dragana991.