Since my MS diagnosis back in early 2011, I have never before, so many times, heard people tell me how great I look. In fact, prior to 2011, I don’t remember anyone telling me how great I looked. Sure, I’d get some occasional compliments on a new hairstyle or item of clothing, but not that I look good. But now I hear it sometimes multiple times per month or even week! And I’m mostly homebound due to my fatigue, so that means a very high percentage of people are going out of their way to tell me this.
I guess it’s just one of those things you say when you feel awkward and want to keep things positive around someone with chronic illness. So, I shouldn’t be upset by it. But it’s frustrating to hear again and again, because it so often comes across as “You must be a hypochondriac or a liar, because you look totally fine to me”. And sometimes that is exactly what people mean. But I don’t think it’s what most mean when they say it. So I have to constantly remind myself of this and just smile and thank them for saying so.
This is such a common problem for the chronically ill that one woman who suffers from Lupus has actually developed a philanthropic career out of it. Christine Miserandino started a website called ButYouDontLookSick.com which is based on her powerful analogy about the struggle she has with lack of energy. She called it The Spoon Theory. It’s quite clever, really. And it’s hugely, hugely popular because it strikes a chord with anyone who is suffering in the same way and feels so misunderstood. I love that she has created such a great, supporting place. We all need to know we’re not alone in this struggle.
But I’m still struggling with how to most effectively answer people who make the same offensive comments again and again. I know they do it because they are feeling awkward and don’t know what to say. Or sometimes they just don’t want to have to think about illness and just want to change the subject as soon as possible. I have learned to avoid discussing anything about my illness with most people (especially family) for this reason. That, and as much as I hate to admit it, I do put a lot of energy into trying to look OK. I don’t want people to see me looking all disheveled and with giant dark circles under my bloodshot eyes. I learned recently that I really, really don’t like them seeing me with a cane. So even if I think I may need it, I leave it at home most of the time. Oh, my vanity. I really need to let that go… but without letting myself go. Tough balance.
I’m always looking for the best responses that other people offer to these stock comments. I’d like to find some good, helpful, and possibly humourous things to say. I don’t want to be offensive or get upset, as tempting as it can be sometimes. Many of the comments I often hear are shared in this little video. Boy can I ever relate to that guy! But sadly, in the end he doesn’t have a good response that I could borrow.
Most often when people tell me I look good, I say “Thanks! It’s the make-up!”. And it’s true. I use a make-up brand that requires very little effort and covers my skin well enough to hide all the blemishes, imperfections, and dark circles. It even adds a little sheen which gives me a bit of a “glowing skin” affect. When I don’t wear it, I look run down and sick. So it really does make a difference. But ultimately, that comment isn’t working very well as people then carry on with more compliments like “oh, you’re just saying that! You really do look great”, and on and on and on… So I could really use some new material.
Do you have any good come back lines to those standard, ignorant-but-well-meaning comments? Post them below, please!