I cannot tell you how many times people have said to me “you look well today” or “your looking good today”, like “Er, Hello, do I always look ill every other time you see me”??
Everyone likes a compliment right? But when you have Chronic Pain, compliments that are truly meant, are few and far between, and hearing “you look good today” can get a little irritating, especially when your body is screaming at you in pain. And all you can think about is “Really?! Today of all days, you think I look good/well. What on earth would you say when I AM having a good day?!”
I have learned over the past 5 years that most of the time, the best way to deal with it, it’s to acknowledge, smile and say thank you, after all, the person is giving you a compliment, it’s not an invitation to explain how you really feel at that precise moment, they weren’t asking for your life story, how many tablets you’ve taken today, how long it took you to get out of bed or whatever else, they are merely giving you a compliment.
If you research “Things not to say to someone with a Chronic Illness”, you’ll find this on pretty much every list, along with a whole load of other things too. It’s not that we don’t like to hear “You look good,” “You don’t look sick”, it’s WHY we don’t like to hear it.
So why i hear you say. Well the easiest way to explain it is just because we look good doesn’t mean we feel good. It seems every time I get the compliment I feel awful, but on my better days no compliment arrives, which is a little messed up! I look better when I’m in excruciating pain than I do when I’m in less excruciating pain!? What’s that about?!
When you feel in pain mostly every hour of your day, and get told “you look good” it’s like the person thinks you’re now getting better and the illness you had has magically gone away. I wish it was the case, but as time moves on you learn to deal with things differently, and the main way I have learnt, is to put on a front, show the world what they want to see, because it’s easier that way. It’s easier than telling people how you really feel. It’s easier than admitting you really don’t feel good today. For me it’s also easier than admitting I’m struggling, struggling to deal with my pain, the daily battles and everything else this chronic illness throws my way. Put a smile on and everything is ok. Sort of.
Because I led a pain-free life previous to this now constant life of pain, it’s hard for me to understand and accept this new way of life, as it is for every person with Chronic Pain, and it’s not until you yourself have been affected by this illness you truly appreciate the struggles a person goes through, that although we look fine on the outside, the inside is broken. But how do you explain all this to someone who doesn’t understand? I go back to what I said earlier. Smile.
I remember one day seeing my GP, (who watches me walk up the corridor to see how I look that day) and him saying “well your looking better than the last time I saw you”, which hits a nerve of panic. Does he think that I’m putting this pain on, that I’m just drug seeking, attention seeking, will he stop helping me, stop seeing me? All these panicked thoughts come flooding from the back of beyond and worry sets in. But I have to remember that my GP sees me more often than I see friends or family, so yes , he has seen me at my worst and at my best. He’s seen me 2 days after major spinal surgery, so of course to him, yes, I probably do look better that day compared to the previous time I saw him when he said the exact opposite. He is one of the main people in my life that sees the changes and the progress I’m making or trying to make, but he also understands. It’s his job to understand.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, people with Chronic Pain aren’t any different to anyone else, we just have different battles and struggles, we adapt, we learn and we try to move on. Just because we have this pain doesn’t mean we don’t want compliments (even if we have bags under our eyes from no sleep. We have the cold/flu because our immune system is shot with all the medication. Or we look like a mess because getting dressed that day was a battle, of course we want compliments, but we do also understand that people are trying to be supportive and encourage us to keep going.
Deep down we do know this, and encouragement and support is what keeps us motivated to keep going, so don’t ever stop supporting someone.
When you have a whole new life handed to you on a plate, these kind of compliments are part of your new life, but there’s no instruction manual given alongside your diagnosis, you have to make your own way through things, learn, adapt and accept.
It’s only the beginning of my story and I’m just exploring the contents.