Without a doubt, this line has been used on myself by almost everyone I come across who is aware of my situation. While I am totally aware that people genuinely think they are complementing me, it just pisses me off. Normally, ‘you look great’ would be a compliment I would happily receive – however now this sentence comes with an invisible second part which makes it not so flattering. Everyone says it but I can’t help but hear ‘you look great for someone who is sick.’ I don’t hear ‘wow Ash you look really nice today,’ I hear ‘wow Ash, you look really nice today for someone who is sick.’ Or even worse, I hear ‘you look great, so you must feel great too.’
I struggle to respond sometimes. I often make a joke about how terrible I’d look if it were to sync up with how I felt or I just laugh awkwardly and say thank you.
The reason this line is so frustrating for myself (and anyone else with an invisible illness) is because is basically invalidates my illness because I still look fine. To any onlooker – I am an average person who may or may not appear to be walking funny. It feels as though if I looked sick, people would be more inclined to take me seriously. If my leg were broken for example, it would be obvious to anyone that I was in pain and physically impaired. If someone had a broken leg no one would question them if they said they couldn’t do something. Myself on the other hand, is different. An innocent example from my partner is when I can’t open something he will tell me to try again, or worse, ‘try harder.’ Or if I tell him I need to stay in the car because my legs aren’t cooperating he will tell me to push myself and that I can do it. Firstly, I know I can do it, but at what expense? Is it really necessary that I exhaust myself from a trip inside the supermarket? If however instead of being numb, my arm and leg were broken – these statements would not be made and I wouldn’t have to ‘prove’ my illness to anybody. The struggle of an invisible illness is very real; even those closest to me can’t quite grasp the idea of it.
Coming back to work after having about four months off my regular customers began asking how I was going. I would always respond with the truth – that things hadn’t really changed but I had to start readjusting to my ‘new normal’ life. Without fail, they all responded with ‘but you look great’ or something along those lines. Being back at work is damn hard. Yeah I only work five hours at a time and can only really serve customers on the till, but it’s so fucking hard. Not only am I numb and chronically fatigued, but I am also in horrendous pain. My legs will start to burn and my back aches like nothing else. But I push through it and when people say ‘you look great’ I just grit my teeth and think if only they knew how hard it is for me to be standing upright right now.
This isn’t telling you never to compliment someone with an invisible illness, if you genuinely think I look Kardashian level hot today, please feel free to tell me. But don’t tell me ‘I look great’ simply because I don’t look sick. I know I don’t look sick and unfortunately, this doesn’t change the fact that I am sick.
I may look ‘great’ to you right now, but what you don’t see is me crying for hours because I’m in pain, you don’t see me so exhausted that I can’t get out of bed. You don’t see me with hair that hasn’t been washed in weeks because it’s too hard for me to do myself. You don’t see my hands struggle to put makeup on to cover my tiredness. You don’t see me holding myself up on a bench because I can’t stand. I choose to not let anyone see this, I don’t like people seeing me struggle. So please, just know that right now my hair and makeup might look ‘great’ and I might be smiling but I am struggling. I don’t need you telling me I look great because this isn’t a compliment – you’re basically saying I look normal, that I don’t look like a sick person.
So take this as a public service announcement – stop telling people with invisible illnesses that they look great! Just don’t. It is just fucking shitty. It makes us feel like we can’t truly be ‘sick’ unless we look like shit. It makes us feel as though we won’t be taken seriously because we look well. Sorry my illness isn’t a flesh eating disease – you can’t see it, but I can assure you, I sure as hell can feel it.