Of the millions of people suffering from chronic illness in our country, 96% of them have what is called “invisible illness,” meaning their sickness does not show on the outside.
Being one of those millions, I often hear the phrase, “But you don’t look sick!” I think people mean it as a compliment. Seems we sick people are supposed to look like half-drowned rats someone found in the cellar or something, and people are surprised when we look fine on the outside.
|My trying-to-not-look-sick look, but I can tell I'm on extra steroids from the swollen eyes and "poofy" face of Addison's.|
And the irony is, most of us try very hard to look fine. Why? I’m not sure. We don’t want people to think we’re trying to milk our illness, or we don’t want people to think we’re angry with God.
On my Facebook page, Sick&Tired, we’ve been discussing this “But you don’t look sick!” phenomenon, and what “looking sick” actually looks like. It’s been fun. I decided it’s what I look like first thing in the morning. =)
Yesterday I got the opportunity to do an experiment. I was tired and, to be honest, did not want to go to church that evening because of all the effort it would take—effort I realized was mostly in the attempt to not “look sick.” Makeup. Hair fixed. Etc.
Something you need to know—I live in the South, and southern women tend to feel the need to be “fixed up” before going out of the house. If you’re diehard Southern, you even make sure your purse, shoes, jacket and accessories all go with your outfit.
I’m not, but not wearing makeup to church was something I forced myself to do last night. I decided that I wasn’t going to miss church just because of that.
So I went, looking sick (in my opinion). It was hard for me to do, because I make a great effort to not look as tired or sick as I feel.
The experiment was rather anti-climatic. Nobody said, “Oh my, you look sick,” or even, “Poor thing, you look so tired.” I even admitted I was tired when people asked how I was (this was also hard for me to do).
Granted, nobody said I didn’t look sick either =), but it’s not like anyone avoided me or wasn’t nice to me because I looked as tired as I felt.
In the end, I really enjoyed the sermon’s reminder that my life is about God not about me. And my experiment proved to me something else: Church is not about me proving I’m not sick. Or even proving I am sick.
It’s not supposed to be about me at all. It’s supposed to be about Christ.
If you have a chronic illness like me, and you suffer from the fear of “looking sick” and all the imagined ramifications or failings that will result, here’s my suggestion for you today:
Stop pretending and be real. It is not whining, complaining, or blaming God to admit that you have a condition and may not be feeling your best right now. And if you’re avoiding people just because you aren’t able to pretend as well today, not only are you missing out on the opportunity to be ministered to, but others are missing the opportunity to encourage or help you (something that feels good to do and is rewarded by God).
One last thing—even if you feel like a half-drowned rat, you probably don’t look that bad!
And even if you do, from one half drowned-rat to another, you can live in peace today, knowing that it’s not a sin to have a chronic condition and it’s not a sin to “look sick.”