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When a Cashier Told Me I 'Look Really Good' for Having Lyme Disease

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“Wh-what are you doing with all…”

Her eyes are wide with confusion and awe. As soon as the words escape, I see her regret. She doesn’t even finish the question, but her reproof is out, suspended between us.

My shopping cart overflows with an item most people purchase in singles, and I am buying in bulk.

One hundred and sixty-seven, to be exact.

I have a hunch that Sam’s Club employees are suppose to refrain from commenting on customers’ purchases. It makes for awkward situations otherwise. After all, if I hoist a candlestick, some rope and set of kitchen knives up on the counter, I don’t exactly want the cashier to yell “Colonel Mustard with the lead pipe in the library!” as she scans my items.

But this time, I’m not offended. In fact, I’m a little surprised to find myself excited to hear the question. I don’t have this opportunity often.

“I have Lyme disease, and I’m speaking to high school students about the illness and how to prevent it. I’m going to invite them to take the Lyme Challenge.”

I expect her to make some offhand comment about thinking I was prepping for one heck of a party. Instead, she nods knowingly, and I am immediately skeptical of her knowledge of the subject. I thought I knew about Lyme disease, too, until I actually got it. But she surprises me again.

“You look really good for someone with Lyme’s.”

Someone with Lyme’s. Seriously?!

Pet Peeve #1: Lyme’s Disease. It’s Lyme. Just Lyme, not Lyme’s. Lyme doesn’t own the disease, so there is no apostrophe. Yeah, I’m still an English teacher at heart. Lyme is the name of the town in Connecticut that first recognized the tick-borne disease. But I forgive the cashier for this oversight because most people legitimately don’t know this, and I’d stopped trying to correct the mistake.

Pet Peeve #2: The qualifier. A compliment that is extended based only on the presence of some identifier.

As in, “You look great… for someone running late.” Or, “You look really good… for your age!”

This irritated me well before my sickness.

The worst one? “You look great… for someone with four kids.” As if somehow the birth of each one gave me permission to add inches or gain a few wrinkles.

I want to look great. Period. Don’t we all?

But I look good for someone with Lyme? This woman clearly hadn’t seen me four months ago when I couldn’t have walked from the car into the store without collapsing. When I’d gained 35 pounds from the medication I was taking every day. When the violet moon-shaped darkness under my eyes was all I could see in the mirror.

Today, I had driven there by myself, walked into and through the store by myself, and was now checking out by myself. Seeing the pattern? By my standards, I was having an abso-freaking-lutely stellar day. Darn it.

Still, in her stinging qualifier, I heard more than just the words. To add that association meant she had seen Lyme disease in someone else.

She went on to share that her neighbor has had Lyme disease for years. She rarely sees her, but when she does, her neighbor is using a cane. In that moment, in her eyes, I did look good. Comparatively speaking.

I swipe my debit card, chatting with her for a minute or so. Perhaps this is another reason why cashiers are discouraged from interrogating customers. Other customers are already placing their items on the counter before conversations of any depth can be finished.

I push the wobbly cart toward my car, inwardly grateful to have it to lean on. Better this cart than my cane.

One hundred and sixty-seven.

Had that ridiculous number of limes not been the sole content of my cart, she never would have known I am sick.

Invisible illnesses are devious. We can mask them with layered clothing, some makeup and a shopping cart to lean on. We want to hide our pain. We want to look good.

But at the same time, we want people to understand our pain. We want to feel like we aren’t alone. Most of our symptoms are unseen. Joint pain, muscle aches, fatigue, shortness of breath and headaches, even when excruciating, are indiscernible by those who look at us. Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune disorders, blood disorders, and so many more — veiled illnesses that can torment us. In one breath, we yearn for the world to understand this, but in the next, we might just want to look like we feel fine.

We want to wear the right clothes, fix our hair just so and say just the right things. We want to be like all the other shoppers in Sam’s Club, our internal pain and illness disguised by our external appearance.

I load the dozen bags of limes into my car.

One for each day I have been sick.

One hundred and sixty-seven days since I’d felt like a “normal,” everyday shopper.

I want to feel like everyone else, too, but I’ll settle for just looking like it.

Jena’s shopping cart full of limes

Follow this journey on A Broken Crayon.

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

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Originally published: February 9, 2016
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